Book Review: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

The house at the end of the lane burned down, and Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, were never seen again. The townspeople never learned what happened. Only Mae and her brother Rossa know the truth; they spent two summers with Rita and Bevan, two of the strangest summers of their lives…

Because nothing in that house was as it seemed: a cat who was more than a cat, and a dark power called Sweet James that lurked behind the wallpaper, enthralling Bevan with whispers of neon magic and escape.

And in the summer heat, Mae became equally as enthralled with Bevan. Desperately in the grips of first love, she’d give the other girl anything. A dangerous offer when all that Sweet James desired was a taste of new flesh…

What I Thought:

Having loved Spare and Found Parts, picking up Other Words for Smoke was very easy indeed. For a start, it’s a thing of beauty – I’m a sucker for foil details and a sprayed edge – but the beauty continues within, with some of the most lyrical and magical writing that you could ever hope to read.

Magic is at the heart of this book, the magic created by women and the raw, primal magic that exists beyond the world. As the early stages of the book are seen from Rossa and Mae’s points of view, the magical elements of the house are revealed slowly as we are let in on the many secrets hidden in the walls,

I was lucky enought to hear Sarah Maria Griffin speak at YALC this year, and she explained that the house is a representation of Ireland, and Irish history built on the suffering of women and that really comes through clearly. There are instances in Rita’s life which draw on the Magdalene laundries and, while those institutions might be shuttered for good, their reach in Ireland and in the lives of these characters is long and deep.

There are several different voices at play here, which allows us to delve more deeply into each character, with Bevan being interesting and likeable/unlikeable/compelling all at the same time. She toys with the forces in the house and can’t stop herself, even when she wants to and causes a quiet kind of havoc until the walls finally come crashing down.

I can’t be particularly more specific in this review for fear of spoiling, but there are some passages that you will read over and over again, as they are more akin to poetry than prose, but they still push the story forward at a comfortable pace.

You’d really be doing yourself a favour if you picked up any of Sarah Maria Griffin’s work, there’s just something undefinable about her writing that, like this book, has magic in it.

Other Words for Smoke is published by Titan Books.

To find out more about Sarah Maria Griffin, the best place to find her is on Instagram, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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