The Tell Tale is a novel based in the Welsh village of Foel in the 1970’s. Foel, like many small towns, is rife with secrets. Everyone has long memories and a scandal that happened twenty years ago is still casting a shadow over the town.
Beth Griffiths, with her daughter in tow, has recently returned to Foel to care for her ailing mother, at least that’s the reason she’s telling everyone.
Lady Melling, recently returned herself, is forced to interact with the people she has learned to despise when she surprisingly inherits her father’s estate and has to deal with all the obligations that go along with her inheritance.
Both women are barely coping with their own demons and the complications of living in their childhood home, when suddenly the town is in an uproar after someone starts dispersing nasty revealing notes. Secrets are being exposed, and everyone is looking over their shoulders and pointing fingers.
Hostility rears its ugly head and the whole town is on edge. Beth herself is a victim of these nasty notes, but when another one arrives with instructions rather than gossip, she finds herself searching for long hidden answers.
Will Beth find the truth she so desperately seeks?
What actually happened in Foel twenty years ago?
Pros And My Favourite Parts
PJ: This has got to be one of the best mysteries I have ever read! Ashton takes the reader on a twisting, winding road to revealing truths. The path is full of love, pain, healing, and redemption.
At the onset of that path, we meet Beth Griffiths and Lady Sophie Melling, two women who, unbeknownst to each other, suffer a shared trauma. On its face, Beth and Sophie could not be any more different. Beth is the sweetest woman you can imagine. Her love for her friends, mother, and her daughter is palpable. She appears meek and mild. While Sophie, (Lady Melling), is the iciest of ice queens. She comes across as cold, haughty, and self-entitled. She’s guarded and hostile to everyone at the beginning of the novel. It isn’t until the story progresses that you realize that Beth is stronger than one can imagine, and that Sophie’s heart has been so broken you want to just hug her, keep her safe and help her heal.
We learn that in childhood they shared a friendship with a girl named Elin whose mere existence in their lives has continued to have profound effects into their adulthood.
Further on the path we meet Meg, the best friend anyone could ask for! She’s hilarious, and loyal to the end. I loved Meg and her “tell it like it is” attitude. She was a breath of fresh air in a very stale town.
You also meet Carys, Lady Melling’s household caretaker, a curmudgeon if ever there was one. Carys absolutely steals the novel. I won’t say any more, but we learn Carys is just wonderful, and she and I share a love of wrestling!
As the story progresses, we meet other residents of Foel. We come to understand that 1970’s Foel is bombarded by misogyny and homophobia and ruled by a patriarchal blowhard who insists on his own self-importance. Ashton does a wonderful job of creating such visceral scenes of hatred and bigotry, that I found myself wanting to scream at the page sometimes. I never wanted to see men like this get their comeuppance so much in my life. (Don’t worry, they do!)
The pace of the story is steady, never fast. Truth after truth is revealed, but only in due time. Ashton also embeds in this story a diverse group of people (trans, lesbian, asexual, non-binary), but it doesn’t feel forced. It’s as if they could be in any town, at any time, (and probably were), you just didn’t know enough to see them.
The novel has elements of romance, but it is not a true romance novel. At the heart of the novel however, it is a love story, showing love in all its forms.
Sheena: Pj gave you a great set of reasons to love this book and I agree with all of them. I will add that the writing itself is glorious. Ashton has to be one of my favourite authors from a shear writing point of view. Her use of language is provocative and the way the story unfolds shows an intelligent mastery of the art of storytelling.
And the audiobook, narrated by Lucy Rayner does justice to the story. When I first started listening I was a little unsure about the slower pacing but it was the perfect choice. Rayner understood that with this piece of work you need time to absorb and appreciate it.
Tantor Audio is producing some of the best audiobooks in the lesfic sector and this one is no exception. I highly recommend it and at just under 13 hours long it’s a feast for the ears.
Cons And Heads Up
PJ: There are descriptions of violence in the novel, but please don’t let this deter you from this wonderful story!
Sheena: Heads up for folks who get iffy when there are too many male characters in sapphic fiction, especially when some of the story is told from their point of view and when they are actively oppressing women. But, if you approach this one like the masterful piece of literary fiction that it is, rather than a traditional lesfic novel then you will understand what you are getting and be more likely to enjoy it for the wondrous piece of art that it is.
PJ: I’m sorry I couldn’t add more specific details, but it would be a shame to spoil such a wonderful mystery. If you like twists and turns, wrongs righted, and heartbreaking redemption and love, you will simply adore this novel.
Sheena: If you love books like Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and enjoy stories with layers of complexity, beautifully drawn, characters and overcoming the odds despite untenable circumstances then this book is an absolute must.
And for audiobook lovers, I highly recommend adding this one to your collection. Rayner did a brilliant job of narrating.
If you simply want a lesfic romance then read Poppy Jenkins, it’s also really good.
Excerpt from The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton
Beth chilled, isolated with the others dead to the night, the ache of loneliness settling deep inside. But that wasn’t recent, it had been there down to her bones for years.
Her mind turned to Elin. So many times she’d surfaced today.
What would she have said? That Beth was tired and overwhelmed, with that preternatural maturity Elin had. It contrasted with Elin’s child-like awe other times. It frightened some. They didn’t know what to make of it.
Her friend would have said that Beth looked tired like Elin’s single mother always had. That Beth had been up since before six o’clock, cooked breakfast for the family, readied Nia for a new school, shopped, cleaned, shovelled coal into the shed, run errands for her father, been sexually harassed in the newsagents, collected Nia, cleaned up half-digested Neapolitan ice cream, been stalked on the way home, cooked dinner, bathed her mother, read with Nia and washed up ready for the morning.
Beth lay, blinking back tears, feeling quietly savaged by the place called home.
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 9798479725036
Publisher: Breezy Tree / Indie author
Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Audio
Narrator: Lucy Rayner
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