“Always Another Twist” Sarah Leavesley (Mantle Lane Press) – book review

Always Another Twist Sarah LeavesleyJulie’s reaction to a betrayal at work is to plot revenge. Most would leave this as fantasy but Julie tests the robustness of her plan and puts it into action. It succeeds but she realises that working for a company more concerned with politics than talent isn’t for her and she moves on to a new job and new romance. So far, so good, but Julie’s life is complicated by her older sister Claire. Julie stepped up and helped care for her niece when Claire suffered undiagnosed post-natal depression which became a breakdown when her baby was lost to a cot death. Both sisters have also had to face the sudden death of their much-loved, widowed father. When Julie discovers she is pregnant, she has to face whether her new partner will support her, how her sister will react and deal with the resurfacing of past trauma. Initially chapters follow the nursery rhyme “Ten Green Bottles” with each chapter presenting a new break, a new problem for Julie to solve. Some are simple: you lose a job, find another. Others more complex, discovering her father’s diary, whether to face up to or walk away from a new experience, how to speak to Claire. The bottles start increasing when Julie discovers her pregnancy, implying what is broken can be rebuilt, but a rebuilt bottle carries its fault line.

Although the older sister, Claire was the baby of the family leaving Julie feeling she had to protect and carry. But she also knows that trying to shield Claire from the truth is not helpful, even if news of a new baby isn’t going to be welcome. Claire had discovered an old kaleidoscope from their childhood that she kept for her own baby. Julie remembers how every twist in the kaleidoscope changes the view of the objects within. At the heart of the story is how we allow the views of others to distort the view we have of ourselves. This can be positive when we question decisions and check we’re on the right path. However, it can be negative when we prioritise how our decisions affect others and change them based on unchecked information which may be false.

Julie is easy to sympathise with: the independent sister prepared to take responsibility and do the right thing, even at personal cost. It’s easy to see her reflected in her father who rose to the challenge of allowing two sisters to be themselves and adjust to the loss of their mother without burdening them with his grief. Claire’s husband seems adrift but steps up when it matters. Claire feels a bit of a mystery, a space in the novel where others project onto her. However, we got Claire’s story in “Kaleidoscope”.

“Always Another Twist” is a companion to the earlier “Kaleidoscope” which was told from Claire’s viewpoint. Claire was an unreliable narrator and Julie’s story doesn’t faithfully follow Claire’s. The stories are complementary, however, readers don’t need to read both books together. Each sister’s story stands on its own.

“Always Another Twist” is available from Mantle Lane Press

My review of “Kaleidoscope”

My review of S A Leavesley’s “How to Grow Matches” (poetry)

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“Kaleidoscope” Sarah Leavesley (Mantle Lane Press) – book review

Kaleidoscope Sarah Leavesley book cover“Kaleidoscope” is an extended short story, just the right length to really get to know the narrating character, Claire, in detail and Claire is worth knowing. Her story is complex and, like looking through a kaleidoscope, can be viewed from many angles. Urged by a psychiatrist to write to help her make sense of her story, Claire reluctantly begins, trying to piece her fragments into coherence. Each fragment is separated by a catalogue listing for an item in their “Perfect Mothers’ Accessories” feature. Claire remembers a red kaleidoscope produced by her father as a ‘gift’ on the day her younger sister was born. The kaleidoscope was passed to Claire’s own baby daughter. One is a Julie, the other Julianne, but they are not confused.

They do share traits: Julie was the perfect little sister making Claire feel clumsy. Julianne is the perfect little baby making Claire feel inadequate. With her husband and sister focused on the baby, Claire slides into depression. Readers follow the story through Claire’s eyes.

She remembers still suffering morning sickness at her father’s funeral after his sudden death from a heart attack. It leaves her too focused on the physicality of pregnancy to process her grief. The grief re-emerges after Julianne’s difficult birth by cesarean section. Midwives and health visitors are too preoccupied with bureaucracy to really notice Claire. Claire feels Julie is a better mother to Julianne who only seems to cry in Claire’s presence. She feels as if her body is no longer hers: it let her down and she failed to give birth naturally. She and her husband sleep separately when they used to share a bed and she grows to suspect he’s having an affair.

Although Claire’s story distorts, the narrative is clear. Claire muddles memories of her own childhood with memories of her newborn daughter. Few marriages survive the loss of a baby. Claire blames herself but readers are free to decide if she’s right. The writing is precise and evocative. Through the fragments, a clear image of Claire builds as someone shaped by her childhood as an ignored but responsible sister to a prettier, sociable younger sister, someone whose grief was sidelined in favour of focus on physical issues and someone who slipped through the safety net health visitors are supposed to provide. Despite the distorting mirrors, the shiny images, Sarah Leavesley is firmly in control, as the body of a kaleidoscope keeps all the pieces in check but still allows the viewer to see what they want.

Kaleidoscope is available from Mantle Lane Press.


Leicester’s most famous fictional son turns 50 this year and to celebrate both Adrian Mole and his creator, Sue Townsend, Leicester University are having a party on 2 April 2017. Entry free, but you need to book in advance (click link): Adrian Mole’s 50th Birthday.