author of the bestseller THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT


“[Evokes] both Jeanette Winterson and Ian McEwan… an elegiac and uplifting novel about the indissoluble bonds between mothers
and daughters, and a reminder of how the imagination can set you free.” —The Guardian

THE DOLL
FUNERAL
by  KATE HAMER  |  on sale: AUGUST 15, 2017


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“Hamer’s ability to conjure an atmosphere is certainly powerful. Particularly resonant is her portrait of the beauty and menace of the Forest of Dean.” —The Sunday Times


Made Flesh

23 August 1983

I felt sure, the more I thought of it (and that’s about all I’d been thinking of since my birthday), that my real parents did not want to give me up. I expected that went double for my mother because mothers shouldn’t want to give their children away. I refused to believe it could’ve been easy. There must have been a reason for it, something completely terrible. They’d chosen my name, Ruby, and—the way I saw it—why would you choose a name like that for a child you didn’t want?

Three nights after my birthday the moon rose as fat as a peach. I watched it turn the forest canopy into a shifting silver sea.

Anything seemed possible in this light. My real parents, my flesh and blood, could be near, even living right here in the Forest of Dean. I just needed a way to find them.

I left the pillow bunched in my bed, took the pillowcase with me and crept through the moonlit spaces of the house. On the bookshelf were two books from my Gran — an aged copy of Pilgrim’s Progress that used to belong to her and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which she’d given me for my ninth birthday. I had the idea to open one on a chance page and see if somehow there might be a message from her there within the story. I hesitated, then picked Alice, thinking even at that moment I’d probably chosen badly with these tales of disappearing cats and lizard gardeners. I put it in my pillowcase sack. I found the same sharp kitchen knife that had diced up my birthday cake and used it to fillet some ears of barley from the dusty flower display under the mirror. I dropped them in the sack among the other things — horse chestnuts from my bedside drawer, torn up grass, cloth and red thread from Barbara’s workbox.

The flowers of the evening primroses were wide open and floated pale above the grasses. The back gate creaked on its hinges. It led directly into the trees. As I glided through the forest in my plain white nightie I thought, with my sack and this knife sticking out in front of me, if anyone sees me they’ll think I’m a robber, and it made me brave, this looking-like-a-robber girl and the belief that I could strike fear into the hearts of others.

Bad people carried knives though. Murderers. The badness in me rose up as I walked through the dark with knife and sack. The knife began to bounce and wobble in my hand, so I carefully dropped it into the pillowcase, hoping the blade wouldn’t slice right through and cut my legs.

I walked deeper, then stopped by a tree whose outline had something human about it—its slender trunk—and I put both hands there. I caressed the sandpapery bark; it felt like an ash — us foresters know how to tell trees so well I could do it even in this light. Despite the night the air was warm and soft. I sat cross-legged under the tree and unpacked my pillowcase among the saplings that grew haphazardly wherever seeds had landed: some forcing their way, springing up from the ground even where there was hardly any light at all. The forest was a strong body pushing out life wherever it could. I put everything out on the smooth white of the pillowcase, one by one.

When my Gran was still alive she’d shown me things behind the others’ backs. She’d drop a leaf into the stew when Grandad wasn’t looking and wink — a quick sly movement. Girls came to see her sometimes, always when Grandad was out. For girls who wanted to catch pregnant she’d make miniature babies out of string and straw for them to drop in their pockets and keep there, secretly. She called it ‘invoking’ and said it had to be kept quiet because Grandad would disapprove. Everything you’d ever need was right here in the forest, she said — she’d never been away, not even as far as Gloucester. She died outside her cottage underneath the sycamore tree. They found her like a fallen doll against the trunk and said how sad it was she died alone. I think she’d decided it that way. There were sycamore keys in her hair. She had a lapful of them, as if she might have to try a hundred different doors to find where to go next.

When I was little I used to copy her. I’d bunch leaves and herbs together and mutter over them. I’d put a stone by the door for evil wishers to stumble on. Then I was only playing, but tonight I felt life tingle in my fingertips as though if I stuck a branch in the ground it might spurt green leaves.

The knife winked as I lifted it up.

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“What holds the novel together is the tremendous momentum of the story itself, which gathers pace with every page, hooking you into its strangeness and keeping you hooked to the very last word. As an exploration of the hold exerted on us by the past, The Doll Funeral is entirely successful, and for Ruby, the call of the dead ultimately brings understanding.” —Financial Times

“I felt instantly protective of Ruby; the teenager with a secret so chilling I had to check the front door was locked. Hamer’s brilliant storytelling made me read on for fear Ruby’s fate depended on it.” —Grazia

Reading Group Questions

  1. The Doll Funeral is told from three different perspectives: that of Ruby, Anna, and Shadow. How does this narration-style change the way a story is read and understood? How does the reading experience differ from a more traditional style of storytelling? What narrator was your favorite and why?
  2. The Doll Funeral opens with Ruby being told she’s been adopted. Ruby’s reaction—“I ran into the garden and sang for joy.”—is unexpected. What do you make of this reaction? And how does it define her as a character?
  3. In retrospect, what do you make of Sylvia Plath’s line “Love set you going like a fat gold watch,” which serves as one of the novel’s epigraphs.
  4. Hamer writes: “We are what our families have made us. But sometimes, you can escape that. You can close a door on it and walk into another room. This room is furnished differently. It’s all things you chose yourself.” What role does family play in The Doll Funeral. Is it something you can shut out? Move away from? Is it strictly biological, or can you call anyone family, and mean it?
  5. Many have called The Doll Funeral a “fairy tale for adults.” Is this true? In what ways is Hamer commenting on or expanding the fairy tale?



In an interview with founder of Crime by the Book on publication of Kate Hamer's debut, The Girl in the Red Coat

KATE HAMER

Kate Hamer is the author of The Girl in the Red Coat, which was a Costa First Novel Award finalist, a Dagger Award finalist, an Amazon Best Book of the Year 2016 and a winner of the ELLE Lettres Readers’ Prize. She lives in Cardiff, Wales, with her husband and two children.

Oh look, Kirkus is already saying amazing things about The Doll Funeral:

“Hamer has created a mystical world in which characters are haunted by specters of their present as well as their past, by the living and the lost. Her diction is lovely and tangible...A powerful paranormal novel.” —Kirkus Reviews

Kate can be found on twitter @kate_hamer.