A tale of love, loss, grief and healing wrapped in magical realism and suitable for a wide range of readers. Families in this story have lost loved ones and are either handling their grief, not handling it, or ignoring it. They carry suppressed fears, squashed desires, and unfulfilled dreams but The Emporium of Imagination is here to help. And help it does, in the strangest of ways. I know the town of Boonah (and the camel farm) and felt an affinity as the story unfolded but apart from Story Tree café and Blumbergville Clock in High Street, similarities ended there.
A man, a cat and a key arrive with The Emporium and set up shop in the main street of Boonah, offering special ‘phones’, strange notes on scraps of paper and the ability to hear human grief in all its stages. Although this may sound gloomy, at worst depressing, the characters keep things moving, offering the reader many POVs and scenarios ranging from timidity to teen humour, guilt to anger, regret, and worse case scenarios like replaying the death of a loved one. The narrative often has dreamlike suspension of disbelief but the heartache is real.
The Emporium’s former custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, gives way to a new curator who decides not to answer the special ‘phone’ but believes the townspeople of Boonah deserve hope ‘I can’t take that away from them’ although cynical me wonders if it would give false hope? Surely a nicely worded pep talk about getting on with your life and following those cherished dreams would work? However, the story is more restrained than that and gently imparts the whys and wherefores of coping with grief.
I felt the inside of The Emporium was a bit Disney-movie. While I tried to put my own emotions into a character, the practicable side of me could not relate to uncertain concepts. Would a final ‘phone call’ to the recently deceased help the person in mourning, or would it tip them over the brink? Items include Ladybird lollipops (nobody pays for goods); special connections to memorabilia; a notebook which turns up in the oddest places for select clientele; and a subtle cat with an unsubtle name.
In the last pages of the book I found the experiences of author Tabitha Bird just as moving as the characters in the book (poor dear Enoch) but that’s just me. There is an end page headed The Owner’s Guide To Grieving in keeping with The Emporium’s roving notebook, offering the opportunity to write in ‘A quiet space to simply be’. I read a new library book so abstained from writing on the page—I bet someone does.
Now I’m off to bake Bedtime Muffins from Isaac’s (Enoch’s dad) recipe!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward