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The Haunting of Strawberry Water

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‘This dazzling series shows that if the barriers can be vaulted there is true beauty to be had from the lesser-walked streets of literature. These works are both nourishing and inspiring, and a gift to any reader.’ —Kerry Hudson

A gripping tale of post-natal depression, this short story reads like a modern retelling of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and has much in common with Sarah Water' The Little Stranger in its realisation of psychological distress as a supernatural phenomenon.
A new mother, traumatised by an arduous labour, tries to come to terms with being abandoned as a baby by Olivia, the mother she never knew. Set in the eponymous ‘Strawberry Water’, a mysterious 1920s country bungalow which overlooks a fast-flowing river, the story begins with a faded photograph of the woman our narrator assumes to be her mother.

Spotlight Books is a collaboration between Creative Future, New Writing South and Myriad Editions to discover, guide and support writers who are under-represented due to mental or physical health issues, disability, race, class, gender identity or social circumstance.

64 pages, Paperback

Published February 8, 2020

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Tara Gould

1 book

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,420 followers
January 28, 2021
This is the dark and haunting tale of postnatal depression, with echoes of The Yellow Wallpaper. It begins by featuring the protagonist as a child herself before introducing her as an adult, then a wife, and, finally, a mother.

The writing and the storyline were equally as disturbing and worked in tandem to deliver to the reader the same perpetually unsettling emotions as the protagonist herself was feeling. Everything became infused with a miasma of dread. For example, the sky is described as "pewter-grey, with a glowing strip of red where the sun pushed up, as if congealed on the horizon." This story might only measure in at just over 60 pages but I found at least two to three lines I wanted to pause and ruminate on, on every single page. My only source of displeasure was that there wasn't more of it.
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews449 followers
April 4, 2020
Gifted by the publisher for an honest review

A haunting and raw exploration of a daughter’s non-existent relationship with her mother who left her aged one, and the effect that has on her when she becomes a mother herself. Chilling and honest, this is the mash up of supernatural and unconventional motherhood that I never knew I needed. If you only buy one of these editions, make it this one!
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,689 reviews177 followers
February 16, 2020
In The Haunting of Strawberry Water, short story writer and playwright Tara Gould focuses upon a new mother 'in the throes of post-natal depression'.  The protagonist's pregnancy has thrown up past turmoil, in which she is trying to understand why she herself was abandoned as a baby 'by the mother she never knew'.  Gould's story sounded wonderfully mysterious; it is set in a 1920s bungalow in the countryside, in which 'supernatural forces begin to take hold in this gripping and heartrending tale of the uncanny.'

The Haunting of Strawberry Water has been well reviewed, and the following comments made the story appeal to me even more.  Jeff Noon believes that 'Tara Gould knows an essential truth, that ghosts exist in the darkness of the mind.  And that sometimes those ghosts can exit the mind and take up residence in the world...'.  Hannah Vincent notes Gould's 'elegant and profound' story, which she sees as much of a piece of nature writing as 'a compelling ghost story, and an expertly handled meditation on the prickly nature of intimate relationships.'

The unnamed narrator's childhood bungalow home is named Strawberry Water, after a phenomenon which occurs in certain weathers 'in late spring and summer' to the river which runs along the bottom of the garden.  In an odd twist of fate, the house comes up for sale, and she and her husband decide to move there from their cramped city apartment with their baby daughter, Freya.  This throws up a lot of memories for the narrator.  When they first move there, she relates the following: 'In the woods on the other side of the river, I looked at the grey collection of shapes between the black silhouettes of the trees and I thought I saw a dark form flitting chaotically between them.  No doubt a fox or a deer, but it sent an unpleasant shiver through me.'

The story opens with the single Polaroid picture which the narrator has of her mother: 'All that's visible is a section of leg where the knee pushes forward, the point of a black, shiny shoe protruding at the base of the wooden door, and three slim fingers clutching the door half way up.  The rest is simply the vague impression of the form and presence of a person.'  She has never seen her mother's face, even in a photograph.  As a child, she touchingly collects pebbles from the river, which 'represented a piece of information about my mother that I'd gleaned over the years.'  She goes on to say: 'I needed desperately to believe that she was decent.  She had left her husband and her baby daughter, but perhaps she had secret reasons.'

We are led from the narrator's motherless childhood into the more stable period of her twenties, in which she married and fell pregnant: 'During the whole of my pregnancy,' she tells us, 'I was unquestioningly happy - a deep contentment I had never before experienced...  I felt connected.  I felt... never alone.'  After a difficult birth, in which she states 'nature revealed her true unmodified self to me', she visualises herself as follows: '... I saw myself putting on a bathrobe and slippers and escaping out of that window, and down the fire escape and away from my baby and the impossible job of being a perfect mother.'

Gould successfully uses a series of short vignettes to weave the story together.  The narrative is interconnected, as one vignette leads into the next.  Gould's prose is beautiful, and her story feels like such an honest one, as she relates the everyday struggles of motherhood.  Once the more sinister elements start to creep into the narrative - strange noises heard around the house, the baby being unable to settle - I was absolutely invested in the story.  By this point, I felt as though I really knew what moved and motivated the bewildered protagonist, and the fear she had surrounding her baby.  The inclusion of herself being motherless added an interesting element to the story, and I felt as though it was well explored by Gould.

The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a highly successful short story, which does and says a lot.  It is an enjoyable piece of prose, which is beguiling from start to finish; I only wish it had been longer.
Profile Image for The Literary Shed.
222 reviews14 followers
June 8, 2020

There’s a great sense of nostalgia and loss pervading Tara Gould’s short story, The Haunting of Strawberry Water, published by Myriad Editions as a small format paperback.

Paying more than a nod to the Gothic tradition, from the very first words, we are made aware of the narrator’s longing for the mother she never knew, a ‘shadowy, indistinct figure’ who haunts an old Polaroid taken in the house in Strawberry Water in which she grew up. So strong is the narrator’s yearning for a mother figure that, as a child, she uses the only facts she knows to seemingly summon one into existence. But it’s when she has her own child that matters come to ahead, the realisation of her own deep love for her baby making her question who her mother was and why she left her. In an odd turn of events, the narrator and her family end up living in the house in Strawberry Water, and that’s when Gould’s writing really comes into its own, her evocation of place at times quite beautiful. We won’t give any more of the plot away as to do so would spoil your reading of it, but suffice it to say, there are more than a few nods to wonderful writers Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Henry James and Virginia Woolf.

We’re great fans of the short story tradition and Gould effectively uses this form to create an eerie tale, exploring family, motherhood and mental illness.

See: https://www.theliteraryshed.co.uk/rea...

Thanks to the author for supplying a review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.
Profile Image for Yvonne (The Coycaterpillar Reads).
684 reviews211 followers
January 8, 2020
The Haunting of Strawberry Water catapults you into an ethereal memory of an important figure.  A Mother.  An extension of yourself, connected by genes and love.  Someone that will stand by you until their last breath.  They can protect you or they can destroy that link forever.  Tara Gould depicts an elegant but deeply heart-breaking tome that displays the links between motherhood and mental health.  It’s disturbing but so very perfect.  Gould is an artist of trauma, she knows exactly how to inject a longing and flaw to her character.  Is our outcome in life more of an inevitability due to our childhoods or can it be altered?

An extremely toxic relationship between a girl and her forgotten mother.  It’s the kind of novel that will capture your attention and have you examining your own relationship with your mother.  It’s deeply claustrophobic.  The regimes that the abandoned daughter goes through to keep that one link to the forgotten one.  The narrative voice is strong, with a sense of melancholy that seems to escalate as the character ages.  It was interesting to see a child grow right before our eyes.  Her mannerisms, her growth, her constant longing for answers to a broken link in a chain.  Her own change into a mother herself. 

It really is a story of growth and change.  A coming of age story.  However, I felt the story was directed more towards Olivia, the mother.  Why she left, who she was, where did she go?  She was the ever-present ghost in the life of a girl that shaped how she lived her own life.  Becoming a mother is a massive event, it changes you in ways you never knew were even possible.  You suddenly have this little bundle that you are completely responsible for and it can weigh heavily on you.  Your previous life is never going to be the same again.  You must change and adapt.  It was a highly emotional study of relationships and hardship.  Regret and longing. 

The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a totally original, emotionally charged short story of incredible loss of potential.  The potential of love.  It’s dark and layered. 
Profile Image for Sarah.
65 reviews3 followers
January 30, 2020
The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a really thought-provoking and touching short story about a woman who has recently had a baby, Freya, with her husband, Michael.

She was abandoned as a baby, barely a year old, by her own mother, Olivia, aged 32, and all she has left is a Polaroid photo with just a small glimpse of her mother in one corner. The photo was taken in her childhood home, Strawberry Water, so named because the river at the bottom of the bungalow's garden turns a deep reddish pink if the weather conditions were right.

Over the years, she has desperately collected any small bits of information she hears about her mother and squirrelled them away in her mind. She has a collection of stones to commemorate her mother, who her father refuses to talk about.

When she becomes a mum herself, she loves Freya deeply and unconditionally but struggles to cope with motherhood and slips into a rather depressive state, overwhelmed by feelings of dread and thoughts of grief and dismay at her mother's loss.

Various events occur, strange things happen and her unresolved emotions cause her to spiral out of control and she falls into deep despair. She feels hollow and disconnected and it sounds like she needs help. 

A touching, emotional read about motherhood and post-natal depression.
Profile Image for Nicola Smith.
900 reviews24 followers
January 29, 2020
This is a fabulous little read. With just 48 small pages of text (the book is only 64 pages in total) you might think there's not going to be much to it but you'd be wrong. It's a really thought-provoking story.

It's a story of motherhood and abandonment with hidden depths that are still making me think. Our narrator's mother left when she was very young. All she has is a Polaroid photo where just a small trace of her mother is visible. Despite that, she clings to it as she grows up. What's particularly interesting is her own response to motherhood and how she deals with what we presume must be post-natal depression.

Strawberry Water is her childhood home and is not necessarily the typical setting for a story such as this with a slight supernatural theme. That's what I loved about it!

The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a rather chilling story of a mental breakdown, of dealing with the trauma that comes with being a new mother particularly with a lack of support, how difficult it can be to cope. I thought it was fabulous.
Profile Image for Contrary Reader.
152 reviews15 followers
January 18, 2020
A neat little haunting tale that takes in themes of motherhood, pregnancy and loss of a parent. It has some beautiful turns of phrase and language use scattered through it that add to the pink, watery imagery that resides throughout
Profile Image for Amy Victoria.
5 reviews
July 21, 2020
An affecting short story about past and present trauma. The evocation of place is superb - beautifully written.
Profile Image for Dani.
63 reviews5 followers
August 26, 2020
A really great, very short read that is beautifully written. A well developed glimpse into post-natal depression (especially considering how short the book is).
Profile Image for Layla.
37 reviews
September 23, 2020
For a short story, this packs a punch. The ending is abrupt and vague, but perhaps Gould intended for the reader to draw their own conclusions about what was really happening.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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