Review ‘The Emporium of Imagination’ Tabitha Bird

Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

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 iconic clock mentioned in the book is named after the original Blumbergville settlement in Boonah and is made out of old farming and industrial equipment. In 2014, Boonah artist Christopher Trotter created the clock with Boonah clock-maker David Bland designed to mark the town’s rural heritage.

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

Grantham Gatton Helidon Road vintage shop © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2019

‘Ebb’ Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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‘Ebb’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine USA, on 22 February 1892.  Edna’s poetry and playwright collections include The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (Flying Cloud Press 1922) winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Renascence and Other Poems (Harper 1917)

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Edna won a scholarship to Vassar College and became famous during her lifetime for her poetry with its passionate, formal lyrics, her flame-red hair, outspoken political views and unconventional lifestyle.  She died on 18 October, 1950, in Austerlitz, New York.

Poets https://poets.org/poem/ebb
Poetry Foundation https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55993/renascence

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

A Dragon Delivered My Parcel

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I was waiting for the delivery of a book written by UK author Maria Donovan.  The title and synopsis of ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ hint at a delicious yet deadly coming-of-age mystery.

There was scratching at the front door and our well-trained pet dragon stood there with a grin on his face.  He had collected the parcel from the letterbox in anticipation of a treat.  I patted him on the head and said ‘Good boy’ then picked up the parcel.  He whined.  I laughed.  ‘Okay, I’ll get a couple of nuts’.

Inside the door, I placed the parcel on the sideboard.  Underneath was an old rusty toolkit containing old rusty bits and pieces.  I selected a couple of flange nuts and one bolt, gave them a squirt with WD40, and went back outside.

Part of the game was a quick toss-and-gulp and if you weren’t ready you’d miss it.  I closed the front door on the slobbering noises and went to find a pair of scissors.  The Booktopia cardboard was tough but I wrested it open.

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And there was the pristine book I had so eagerly awaited!  At the moment, I’ve only read up to Page 20 so I am sorry to disappoint you but my book review will be in another blog post further down the track.  As my auntie used to say ‘Keep you in suspenders.’

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Lost and Found’ by Brooke Davis

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Millie

Millie knows that everything must die and keeps a record of assorted creatures in her Book Of Dead Things.  Sadly someone close to her becomes a dead thing too, which causes her mother to do something wrong.

Since Agatha’s husband died, she never leaves the house and shouts at people in the street as they walk by her window.  Until she sees Millie across the street.

Karl has lost his beloved wife and just moved into an aged care home.  He feels bereft as he watches his son leave.  Then he has a light-bulb moment and walks out in search of something.

All three are lost until they find each other and embark on a very unusual journey of discovery, reconciliation and acceptance.  A book with sadness, humour and eye-opening revelations as seven year old Millie Bird, eighty-two year old Agatha and eighty-seven year old Karl slowly but surely reveal what lies deep within their hearts.

Lost And Found is the debut novel of Australian author Brooke Davis which caused a literary sensation at the London Book Fair and sparked a bidding war overseas.  Davis, who suffered a deeply personal loss, said her ideas coalesced during a long train trip to Perth “A lot of the plot in my novel is based around that trip across the Nullarbor,” Davis said.  “The whole novel I think became a process of me trying to work through that loss.”

It is not written in the conventional manner, it does take a couple of pages to assimilate, but then this is half the book’s charm.  The funny bits are outrageous, the sorrowful times brought tears to my eyes especially reading about the older characters, and the outback backdrop is superb.  Millie is a delight throughout the road trip, a trip which is illogically undertaken yet surprisingly exciting.

The trio endure a bumpy ride but it comes out loud and clear that You Are Never Too Late and You Are Never Too Old.  I give it 5-star rating and hope you agree.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward