Monday, 4 August 2014

Book Review: HERRING GIRL BY DEBBIE TAYLOR


My thoughts on this hypnotic story .....



HERRING GIRL

BY
DEBBIE TAYLOR

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  7 August 2014
Publisher:  Oneworld Publications
Length:  480 pages

5/5



Twelve-year-old Ben has always felt that he was born into the wrong body. When Mary, his therapist, suggests hypnosis as a way to help him understand why he doesn’t identify as a boy, Ben finds himself the unlikely conduit for a herring girl called Annie, who lived over a century earlier in the same fishing port.

Under the spell of hypnosis, Annie comes alive through Ben, and with her the startling story of her life, and her mysterious death. As the events surrounding Annie’s final days start to emerge – her secret affair with young fisherman Sam; the violent jealousy of his rival Tom; the pregnancy fears of her best friend Flo; the abject paranoia of her brother Jimmy – both Ben and Mary find themselves embroiled in a puzzling saga from the past. And if – as psychoanalytic research suggests – souls tend to reincarnate in groups repeat­edly down the centuries, it could be that those close to Ben today were involved in the dramas of 1898, and a murderer could still be among them, waiting to strike again.

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When I was little I thought I was a girl called Annie

I started reading Herring Girl with an open mind and I still have an open mind on past life regression and souls being reincarnated time and time again together, but I find the subject so fascinating and intriguing and when Oneworld publishers offered me the chance to read it I was immediately drawn to the story.

Ben is a troubled boy, he feels like his body's a coat that belongs to someone else.  He has been buying girl's clothes for weeks in readiness for his first outing, hiding them from his Da, a no-nonsense deep sea fisherman who thinks that he's got over all that 'Annie business'.

Mary, a psychotherapist who believes in the soul and that souls could be reincarnated in groups through the years, thinks she can help Ben.

During the hypnosis session, Ben becomes sixteen year old herring girl Annie living in North Shields in 1898 describing her life, her friends, her family and her secret young man, Sam, in startling detail.  But when Ben wakes up from his trances at dramatic moments in Annie's life, it starts to become clear that young Annie was murdered.  But by whom?

I loved these glimpses into Annie's life, I could almost smell the 'sea smells and fish stink and lum smoke, and bread from the bakery and frying bacon bits and herring' .... it was so realistic (or as realistic as I imagined it would be then!)

Mary wants to prove the theory that certain communities of souls may seek one another out repeatedly, over and over, at different times and she persuades several people, friends, an ex-boyfriend who wants to make a BBC documentary about her work, even Ben's father to undergo regression, with amazing results.  I did find this very coincidental and how lucky was Mary that so many people would agree to be hypnotised?!  

This is not just a story of past lives, it is also a story of a long forgotten era when 'Scots lasses' would travel down the east coast following the herring fleet, and what a harsh and hard job it was, 'gipping' the herring in all weathers on the quayside.  Debbie Taylor's meticulous research brings all this, and more, to life.


An enthralling read, full of colourful characters, both in the present and the past.  I'm still thinking about some of those characters now, and I'll think they'll stay with me for a long time yet.


If your Reading Group is looking for a read that will divide opinions and get people talking, then this is one I would recommend.



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About the Author

Debbie Taylor is the founder and Editorial Director of Mslexia. She has worked as Editor at New Internationalist and Writing Women magazines and as a writer, research­er and project manager for many organisations, including Oxfam, Anti-Slavery, BBC 2, Channel 4, UNICEF and WHO. Her novels include The Fourth Queen and Hungry Ghosts. She lives in a decommissioned lighthouse at the mouth of the Tyne with her husband and daughter.

Debbie Taylor's website




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