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Double Stacked Shelves  06/02/20

From the first chapter, this book just had me. I need say nothing much about the plot other than what you see in the synopsis because Beyond the Margin is all about the way it makes you feel.

I found it both captivating and strangely, perhaps even inexplicably calming. It's raw and honest and visceral but is told with such skill that, despite the pity, the fury and the pain, it becomes beautiful, warm and uplifting. I was compelled by Joe's journey. Near isolation makes him face himself; his spinning merry-go-round of regret and guilt is slowed sufficiently by the wonderful couple who both need him and show faith in him, for him to get off and start to heal.

Nuala is so blameless and broke my heart many times on her journey. Luck is no friend to her, until it is. Good people in her life are transient and so often become out of reach. Trying to make it onto the main page when your life is lived out beyond the margins may never be an available option, but she shows a resilience which is borne of her traumatic experiences, with an added strength of character and intelligence that maybe even she doesn't see.

An exceptional piece of writing, characters to treasure and remember. I didn't want this to end; very emotional. I now have a book hangover that I don't have time for! Wouldn't swap it for the world though - can't recommend this highly enough.

5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning piece of writing - and one of my books of the year

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 2 February 2020

At first, I wondered if the profound impact that this book had on me was because it was so very different from the books I usually choose to read. But no – its impact was all down to the fact that it’s a stunning piece of writing. It explores the lives of two people, and their stories and viewpoints alternate.

Young Nuala, after the death of her drug addict mother and her abandonment by her father, moves through the care system, searching for a place where she can belong: its failings are many, and the repeatedly dashed hopes of a vulnerable child are incredibly difficult to read. I say “read”, but this is a book that portrays the full depth of her experience with exceptional authenticity, that makes you cry with frustration at the failings of the system as she moves into adulthood, severely damaged by the twists and turns of her life.

Her father Joe runs away, haunted by loss and guilt, and finds himself on the edge of civilisation as he tries to heal himself. He experiences the exceptional kindness of strangers, who are surviving through farming the wilderness: and he begins to remake his life, drawing on reserves of kindness and humanity his difficult life had failed to eradicate.

The writing is simply wonderful – every word carefully chosen, the natural world vividly described and detailed, atmospheric and full of striking images, reflecting the emotional turmoil of the characters. Every shared thought and feeling, as life throws its slings and arrows, is never anything but wholly real, conveyed with exceptional insight and a sensitivity that is deeply affecting.

And while it’s difficult to look away from Nuala and Joe, the supporting characters are also superbly drawn – the elderly couple who provide Joe’s lifeline to emotional recovery while struggling with their own tragic loss, the community who pull together, the relationship that gives him hope for the future, the hard-pressed social workers who fail to provide the service they should, the acts of kindness that enrich Nuala’s sad life for those fleeting moments.

And I really loved the story’s construction – the intriguing prologue that I’d almost forgotten (and re-read at the end), the uplifting and unexpected ending, the way it left me with real hope for the future. Without question, this will be one of my books of the year.


5.0 out of 5 stars Two contemporary lives lived on the edge

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 3 February 2020

This is a book of life on the edge; both in reality and in emotional terms. Joe is a man who has been about as low as possible and now lives on the edge of the land, and Nuala is always on the edge of disaster. This is a book which features the difficulties and the tremulous joys of life as it describes days when the natural world offers so much, as well as days when people are at their most challenging. This book depicts the problems and inadequacies of the child care system in contemporary Britain and its effects on children and young people. It also deals with small agricultural communities on the edge of subsidence farming. It is an undoubtedly powerful book about the intertwining of two people, two fates, two lives. Difficult subjects are tackled head on, but in a basic and brilliantly observed way. Dealing with subjects such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse, it also looks at positive views of life. It looks at how certain people can look beyond the outer appearance to see the real person beneath. This sensitive and skilfully written book is an impressive and weighty book in many ways, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

Two lives intersect when a man offers a lift to a teenage girl in the pouring rain. She is awkward, needy but also fiercely independent. The scene then changes to a young woman who remembers scenes from her childhood, her life in care, her dismay over her abandonment. Life has been difficult and she reacts by seeking her freedom in a new setting, away from the tearing tragedies that have beset her.

A young man has had a hard life, a nearly impossible childhood, teenage years full of challenges. He has truly lost so much, but is haunted by a child that he cannot forget, he cannot outrun, and his guilt and pain pushes him further and further away. It is only when he gets to the edge of the land that he stops, nervous of a large animal but forced into action. His thoughtfulness and kindness give him a slight hope of a new start, but one that is tenuous, dependent on different people from any he has met before. He must confront his past life and discover a new way forward.

This is a mature book full of detail about potential problems in contemporary life. It also shows huge insight into the thought processes and instinctive reactions of a child and teenager, the sensitive approach of some adults which has an effect, the twists of fate that can change lives. The world of subsistence farming is beautifully described and sensitively worked out. This is a powerful book which has much to say about the nature of life and the pain of separation, the search for a child and the parent figure that is so necessary to a young person’s sense of self. I found this a profoundly moving book that I would recommend as a searing insight into difficult lives, combined with the genuinely positive input that can be made by relative strangers. There is hope, love and genuine concern in this book, and altogether it is an uplifting read.

Cheryl M-msbookblog. Read more.

1st February 2020

This book will be going on my stand-outs of the year. Jo Jackson writes with such compassion and brutal honesty - the result is a breathtakingly down-to-earth and compelling read.


Available also on Amazon as a paperback and on Kindle.