Reviewed on 25th July 2022

The Storytellers by Caron McKinley

Genre: Fiction / Women's Fiction
The Storytellers by Caron McKinley Synopsis

Trapped between life and the afterlife, three women meet and share their stories while discovering the truth about the men in their lives—and about themselves.

Suspended in an eerie state of limbo, an entity called the Gatekeeper tells Nikki, Ronnie, and Mrs. Hawthorne they are on the cusp of entering the afterlife—but only if the women can persuade him that in their earthly lives, they knew the meaning of love.

Fragments of their memories return, plunging them back into their pasts, and forcing them to face the desires, disappointments, addictions, lies, and obsessions they battled in life.

But before time runs out, will they find the answer to the ultimate question: what is love?

The Storytellers by Caron McKinley Review

A Beautifully Compelling and Unique Debut

It’s a very rare day, when I open my Twitter DM’s and find a message from an author that excites me as much as the one I received from Caron a few weeks back. I had already heard so many great things about The Storytellers, and the book was on my (never ending) list of books to buy. So, when Caron McKinley slid into my DM’s with a cheeky request, I jumped at the chance. I was over the moon to be given the chance to read and review her debut for The Glass House Book Club.

I can honestly say, I wasn’t one tiny shred of disappointed – and this is one cheeky Twitter message that had a very happy ending, with a star rating of 4.5, there is very little I can complain about when it comes to this beautifully crafted debut novel.

About the Author
Caron grew up in a mining town on the east coast of Scotland where her dad would return from the pit and fill her life with his tall tales. She never thought about making a career in writing – that was what posh people did, not someone from a working-class council estate.
However, her father’s death was the cause of deep introspection and her emotions gave birth to a short story, Cash, which was published in the Scottish Book Trust’s anthology, Blether. This gave her the confidence to try and believe in herself.
When not blogging, reading, and writing, Caron spends her time with her daughters. She doesn’t enjoy exercise – but loves running around after her grandsons, Lyle and Noah, to whom she is devoted.
Caron had three childhood dreams in life: to become a published author, to become a teacher, and for David Essex to fall in love with her. Two out of three ain’t bad, and she’s delighted with that.

So, what was it about this book that first piqued my interest? To be honest, I had heard a few other reviewers liken Carons writing to Stuart Turton, who quickly became a writing God for me after finishing The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. My only worry, could a debut like this really reach the high bar that expectation set? I opened the first few pages with a frisson of trepidation.

Many say, we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover; but it’s so hard to do that when holding a book in your hands is such an emotional moment. Stroking the cover of this beautiful book gave me all the ‘fantasy’ feels. Deep, dark, enticing.

Would I now describe it as fantasy? No, I don’t believe I would. It is, for me at least, firmly in the speculative women’s fiction genre. For those who are less familiar with this genre, books in this genre generally tackle supernatural or futuristic elements. With this particular debut, I would liken it to The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, tackling similar themes and questions, in a slightly supernatural way.

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World building in this area of fiction is vital. Essential. The reader needs to believe that this world is entirely real. I believe this is one of McKinleys strongest skills as an author. When I finally put this book down, I 100% believed the world she had drawn for me on the page; and if I am honest, my only disappointment is that this world I had loved living in was now over. Devouring this book so quickly left me with a terrible book hangover!

In The Storytellers, McKinley opens the novel with three very different women, standing on what they can only describe as a beach, with a Gatekeeper standing in front of them. Coming to terms with their death, the three women are told that in order to move on, they must tell him all they know and understand about love.

Nikki (a young waitress), Ronnie (a forty-something headteacher), and Mrs Hawthorne (a lovely older widow) then travel through their lives documenting all the men they loved, the mistakes they made and the love lives they led.

What captured me most as a reader was the realness of these women. Caron doesn’t gloss over mistakes. She leans in to them. Each of the women have such distinct personalities and strong individual voices that they feel real, flawed even – and sometimes not at all likeable; but that is the strength of the novel. This isn’t a glossy ‘what could have been’ movie you will see on Hallmark. This is a raw, real and clever depiction of flawed, real and loved women as they discover their own worth in life before moving on to the next and final adventure. In a lot of ways, it feels like a soft feminist exploration of knowing what we deserve in life and refusing to accept anything less.

The novel left me with a sense of hope, and if not a belief in a life after death, certainly a desire to believe that it could be true.

The Storytellers by Caron McKinley is the perfect heady mix of fantasy, strong Women’s Fiction and a sprinkling of hopeful feminism.

Caron writes with flawless ease. With dark humour and clever human observation, she implores us to look at human existence and love in a totally new and unique way; not with rose tinted glasses, but true clarity of reflection. As a debut, this is almost as strong as it gets. A well formed, perfectly executed novel that really makes you think, long after you have turned the final page.

The Storytellers is published by: Bloodhound Books
ISBN: 978 1914614910

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