Space Hopper by Helen Fisher: Written with a moving insight and warmth that cannot fail to capture hearts – book review –
But when an extraordinary incident allows 36-year-old Faye to travel back in time and meet her beloved mother again, the reconnection with the past means she could risk losing the ones she holds most dear in the present.
If time-travel tales set your mind spinning, then Helen Fisher’s thought-provoking debut novel – a tender and compassionate exploration of love, loneliness, grief and belief – is guaranteed to take you on a rollercoaster journey through some of the most powerful emotions.
Fisher, who spent her early life in America but now lives in Suffolk with her two children, studied psychology and Space Hopper digs deep into the corners of human experience to examine what it means to struggle with the pain and legacy of unimaginable loss.
Filled with Seventies nostalgia, and reaching across two generations, Fisher’s beautifully written and warm and witty, family-orientated story moves far beyond the regulation time-travel tale genre to contemplate the tenets of Christian faith, and the trust we place in the things we cannot always fully understand.
‘I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight. And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here. Right now, you probably think I’m going mad. Let me explain…’
So begins the time-travelling account of Faye, a happily married mother who, every night, whispers to her two young daughters Esther and Evie: ‘You are good, you are kind, you are clever, you are funny.’
Faye is determined that the girls should never doubt for a minute that their mother loves them unconditionally because her own mother Jeanie died when she was only eight years old. Faye has never got over the intense pain of losing her, or shaken off the sense of ‘emptiness’ which has overshadowed her life ever since.
With no father on the scene or other family to care for her, Faye was raised by their elderly neighbours, Em and Henry, who fostered and then adopted her, and loved her as their own, but never gave her any details about her mother’s death.
But one day when Faye is sorting through some of her childhood memorabilia in the attic, an empty Space Hopper box becomes the unlikely portal to journey back in time to her childhood home at Christmas of 1977, and a reunion with Jeanie two years before she died.
Suddenly, she has the chance to reconnect with her long-lost mother, and to meet her own younger self, a little girl she can barely remember. Jeanie doesn’t recognise Faye as her daughter but senses that there is something eerily familiar about her.
As the two women become close friends, they share many secrets and Jeanie starts to regard Faye as her ‘guardian angel,’ but Faye is terrified of revealing the truth about her identity, fearing it will prevent her from returning to her own time and her beloved husband and daughters.
Back at home, Faye’s caring husband Eddie, who has left his job in finance to train as a vicar, is becoming all too aware that the wife who swore she would never lie to him is guarding a secret she refuses to share.
Faye knows that eventually she will have to choose between those she loves in the past and those she loves in the here and now. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?
Our conspiratorial, funny and achingly authentic narrator Faye proves to be the perfect time-travel companion… her leap of faith, and her troubled search for the mother whose memory had become no more than fleeting images ‘like butterflies: fragile, floating into my vision and out again,’ is packed with breathtaking imagery and some magical moments.
A down-to-earth mother, consumed by love for her daughters and happy in her marriage, Faye is forced to hide the truth of her fantastical revisits to the past from her devoted, sensitive husband who knows instinctively that Faye is guarding something of huge importance.
Peopled by intriguing, beautifully portrayed characters, written with a moving insight, warmth and beauty that cannot fail to capture hearts, and with a with a twist in its clever tail, Space Hopper will leave you emotionally wrung out… but with fresh hope that second chances might just be for real.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)