A mesmerising fantasy novel about empathy, good and bad feelings, and how we need all of them
Did you ever want to see exactly what the people surrounding you feel? Well, after reading Carrie Hope Fletcher’s third fiction novel you might change your mind about that – or wish for this superpower even more.
When I saw Fletcher’s book in a local bookshop I couldn’t help but scream a little for joy. I have admired Carrie Hope Fletcher as an actress for quite a while now, and when I learned that she is a bestselling author as well, I kept meaning to read one of her books one day. So when I finally got it, I was sure I knew what awaited me, both positive and negative. And Fletcher filled each and every one of my expectations.
Meet Cherry, a young woman in her twenties who loves baking and who just opened a small bakery in Royal Williams Yard, Plymouth. Though she looks just like every normal 25-year old (okay, I have to admit she wears pyjamas all day, but let’s be honest, who wouldn’t love to do that?), Cherry Redgrave, passionate baker and pyjama lover, can do something nobody else can, a secret she keeps to herself: Cherry can see people’s negative emotions, but not in the way you might think. She sees actual monsters following people about. Whether it’s Loneliness, Depression or Arrogance or sometimes several of them at once, she has been able to see them ever since she was born. Cherry herself is followed by Loneliness but has befriended it by the time we meet her. When she is introduced to us, the young woman has lost both her dads and started her so-called “Flour Power Tour” because after her dad Simon’s death she learned another talent – she realised that she can taste and bake positive feelings into pies, cookies and cakes.
This is a talent she soon starts to share with England. For the last four years she has been travelling from little village to little village selling her treat(ment)s until all the inhabitants feel good again. When she starts her life in Royal Williams Yard she soon meets Chase, a man her age who is followed by Mischief, Frustration and Cynicism. Cherry learns that she is not alone with her gift, since Chase has been seeing all the good feelings people have for his entire life, and threatens to ruin all the good Cherry has done. But things really get messed up when our protagonists are introduced to the Guild of Feelers, a society which controls all the people with Cherry and Chase’s talents.
When I say that my all expectations were met, I do not mean that this was a perfect novel. You can tell just from the cover that the book is directed at young adults of the female variety. But there is so much more it can be. The general architecture of the story is one already known to readers of this genre (girl meets boy, they do not really like each other, they get to know and understand each other, a bigger enemy appears, they have to fight it etc.), and at some points the plot developments are way too quick, like the two main characters going from hateful spite to madly in love in the matter of about two days. But there is way more to this book. The topics Fletcher explores, especially with regard to emotions and mental health, give the whole story a certain depth and darkness, so I sometimes felt like I was reading a novel for young adults, and sometimes a book for adults.
“Feelings are a part of life – feelings are life. If you take away what people feel, you take away anything meaningful.” It is for sentences like these that I love this book. Fletcher manages to closely weave the fantastical aspect of her story with lessons of real life. Cherry helps each person slowly, since too much of a specific good feeling is not good either. For this reason, she only puts small amounts of good feelings into her baked goods and people recover from their bad feelings step by step. We also learn that getting rid of your bad feelings completely is not good either. Bad and good feelings are co-dependent and we need the negatives to enjoy positive emotions more. These are just a few thoughts Fletcher’s story sows in its readers.
Fletcher’s writing grips you from the very first sentence. While the concept behind the story is nothing innovative, Fletcher creates characters that are so complex that you don’t really mind. Every single character we meet in Cherry’s bakery has his or her own load to bear and at least one Meddlum (this is what Cherry calls the monsters – since they meddle with all your good feelings until you feel bad) to deal with. Each monster has its own origin and you soon learn that the feelings and the reasons behind them are explored slowly throughout the book. But you also see each character successfully fight their bad feelings and I personally learned a lot more about my feelings and those of other people.
And then we reach the ending, which it felt like Fletcher was rushed to finish. In an interview she admitted that she had to change the story since her original idea was a lot darker than the published novel. Maybe she didn’t have time to change the ending, since the whole story just turns dark and grim within a day and I was left a slightly shocked and devastated because before I knew it, the book was over.
I can recommend this book to anyone who loves a simple but thoughtful piece of literature. Even though it clearly has its weak spots, Carrie Hope Fetcher’s novel grips you right from the start and leaves you with a nice aftertaste of astonishment (rosemary and silver), amusement (fizzy raspberries, salt and phlegm) and contentment (tea and mandarins). She deserves all the praise she got for her writing and I honestly cannot wait to read her next novel which will be published in July 2018. Fletcher is on course to become one of my favourite authors for sure.