Ember by Catherine Yardley – An intense and powerful novel of contemporary relationships

Ember by Catherine Yardley

A family, a relationship and a past that intrudes into everyday life, this is a book of a woman who is struggling with a broken family. Natalie is a successful doctor, in love with Rob, but is coming under enormous pressure to accept her father, Tim, who she holds responsible for the breakup of her family many years before. This is an intense contemporary novel of a difficult part of a woman’s life, when memories and past trauma transform her view. Told mainly from Natalie’s point of view and in her distinctive voice, this is a voice that gives a rare insight into her actions in the light of a difficult past. There are also sections from Rob’s viewpoint, as he tries to understand and come to terms with what Natalie is going through. This is a book that provides an excellent insight into family dynamics. It looks at the individuals that make up the relationships, with sections that recount the feelings of a mother Jacqueline and a father, Tim, on at least one occasion. This powerful and heartfelt novel is a powerful book of a family in distress. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The book opens with an Introduction in what turns out to be Natalie’s voice recording how she pulled up and ejected Rob from his car. It was a totally unexpected act that Rob cannot understand, that he is completely fazed by as we learn later. Not that Natalie can explain it; it appears to be a reaction to the impossible circumstances that she finds herself in. She moves out of the house that she shares with Rob, going to stay with her brother Paul. It emerges that Natalie has been doing the bulk of the preparation for her younger sister Amanda’s wedding. Beautiful, headstrong and spoiled, Amanda is demanding and is only just staying within Natalie’s ability to cope with her. When the latter makes the discovery that their father has paid for the dress and has visited the shop with Amanda, she is shocked. This was the man who she covered for, put up with and nearly hates. When Amanda also reveals that she is pregnant, it is a body blow to Natalie. She has no children herself, but her job as a consultant involves her delivering babies all day. Amanda, in her usual way, demands so much of Natalie, especially in terms of  welcoming their father back into a real relationship. Natalie remembers all too clearly what growing up in her family was like, defined by her father’s behaviour and his closeness to Amanda. She has had enough, and she reacts in a very unpredictable way. 

This is a novel written with real feeling for the ways that a family can become dysfunctional , and the long lasting effect of parental behaviour. Natalie is a complex but completely believable and relatable character, almost pushed beyond endurance by the demands of those closest to her. I read this book in two sittings, thoroughly engaged by the story, in particular the characters who are so well drawn. This is a powerful and strong book of relationships, strongly felt and deeply moving.