At Eva McEwen's birth, six magpies congregate outside the window - a bad omen. That night her mother dies, leaving her with her aunt and heartsick father - and a woman and a girl no one else can see. As Eva grows older these mysterious figures have a profound and ambiguous effect on her life.
When the back of the book mentions that the main character sees two companions that are invisible to everyone else…and asks “Do they wish to protect or harm her?” – my mind turns to ghosts; I assume that the story about the ghosts and that Eva is simply a vehicle for the ghosts.
But instead, the story is about Eva, her life, her feelings about the mother she never knew, her indecision regarding what she should do with her life… a novel, in other words.
Once I was able to change my mindset, I started to enjoy the book. The prose is matter-of-fact, painting a sturdy picture of life in a small town in Scotland – beginning in 1920 when Eva was born. The presence of her mother, Barbara, always hovers over her as she is raised by her father and her aunt.
Eva is very sheltered by these two; late to start school and finding it difficult to make friends once she is there. And then the companions appear, a woman and a girl, and suddenly her life is forever changed.
I liked the story, and liked Eva…but I didn’t really feel connected to her until she is grown and starts to think about marriage and a family. That may be me, projecting a bit, but it seems only at the point do her emotions seem strong enough to transfer to the reader.
“From that day in the churchyard, when the girl had kept her distance, I knew they would not come between us. As for the other things, the fluttering of the heart, the eagerness to touch and hold, I looked down at the ring and thought perhaps such feelings could be learned. Perhaps we could learn them together.”
And later, when the narration turns from Eva describing her day to day life to a letter to her child, the book becomes very poignant. Eva, who didn’t know her mother, is consumed by the life of her daughter in a very moving and beautiful way.
“Only the person upon whom I had turned my last thoughts was not present that day. You were with the first of many strangers. Anne had brought a bunch of violets on your behalf, and when the coffin was lowered into the grave, she stepped forward and placed the small purple flowers upon the shining wood. I have them still.”
This final section of Eva Moves the Furniture is where the book truly glows and becomes a ghost story in the emotional sense of the word – a mixture of past, present and future – where lives touch but do not intersect – where love lives on long after the body lets go.
Set in Scotland, our title character, Eva McEwan, was born in 1920 and sadly her mother passed shortly after her birth. She was lovingly raised by her father David and his sister, Aunt Lily. At the tender age of 4, Eva starts to notice there are 2 people around her who behave differently than others. Soon she realized she’s the only one who can see and hear them. In her lonely youth in the sparsely populated countryside of Ballintyre, Eva identified them as her companions, “girl” and “woman”. These companions stayed with Eva through her childhood, into her adult life, and finally through marriage and motherhood. At times, they seem to have their own agenda, one that may or may not be beneficial to Eva. On the other hand, they certainly don’t hesitate to protect and save Eva when she needed help. Along this journey, Eva questions their presence, and her questions are thoroughly answered by the end.
While I’m largely familiar with British lit, this Scottish lit offered a bit of twist. British English was referred to as “prim” and “proper”, which is then difficult to understand. Both WWI and WWII enter the story addressing women in the work force, rations for not just food but also to buy clothing and household items, and having sing-alongs during night raids to distract/entertain patients in hospitals (news to me!). Like I say, this is a gem of a simple book. The ending, book 4, was particularly well written and answered the reader’s questions thoroughly… - hmm, not gonna say anymore. 4 stars for the book, plus extra 0.5 star for the poignant ending.
One reading tip – don’t try to guess. It’s much more pleasurable to just let it absorb you.
Favorite Character: Eva McEwan – Eva was relatable to me. While having two ghosts as companions kept some potential friends away is unusual, it’s nonetheless common to have family aspects that we felt was best to keep at a safe, self-preservation distance from others. As an adult, she tried to do right for those who gave much for her, notably Aunt Lily, but she also balanced the need to live her own life too, which was also something I did.
Least Favorite Character: Samuel Rosenbaum – Full of angst against those who demean Jewish people, yet he reprimanded Eva for being childish when she told him about her companions. Doesn’t acceptance go in all directions?
On aging, growing up – from Eva on her father and aunt:
“…as I leaned out of the window to wave goodbye two strangers appeared before me. In place of my beloved ageless father and my aggravating aunt stood an elderly man, stiffer and stouter by the month, and a leaf-thin woman whom the merest breeze could blow away. My girlhood was gone, and its passing had brought David and Lily to the far side of middle age. How had I failed to notice?”
On mother-child connection:
“Fanning away the insects, I caught sight of my belly, strange yet familiar in its largeness. Beneath my palm the baby moved. Such a specific feeling, both part of me and apart. A foot or elbow jetted out, and it came to me that, just as my baby pressed again me, so had I once pressed against Barbara. She too had felt the drumming of my heels against the think skin of her belly, swimming towards daybreak. I used to think she had never known me. On the contrary, she had known me intimately.”
This was a really good book you really come to care about Eva and it keeps you guessing as to just whom these companions are. The story goes through the Second World War where Eva is a nurse in Scotland during the air raids and what they went through during those times. I don’t want to give anything away so I will just say this book grabbed me and didn’t let me go. I highly recommend this book!
I didn't feel that this book was terribly well written. I felt that the author didn't go deep enough with the characters in order for the reader to truly connect with them either.
All in all, I found it pretty flat and it didn't keep my attention; I kept falling asleep while reading it. Luckily, though, it captured me just enough to keep me reading until the end.
The last few chapters were better than the entire book combined, and I was extremely moved at the end. I cried and cried in those last few pages, but that wasn't enough to get me to like the book after all was said and done.
To sum it up, I would say this book was "so-so at best, with a very touching ending".
I was ready to give this book a 2-star rating, 2-1/2 stars tops. Until the end. The ending was so good that I gave it 3 stars. But no more.
There is a nice quote about a newborn baby: "You had the frowning, elderly expression of very young babies, as if you had recently arrived from another world and found this one sadly wanting."
My major complaint was that the ending was sad - which isn't necessarily a bad thing; I mostly prefer to read books that don't end in tragedy, but several of my favourite books are sad in various ways. But in this case, I felt that nothing was gained from the sad ending. It wasn't set up in a way that made the story and its message more powerful or more beautiful and I felt that the characters all might as well have lived Happily Ever After.
A worthwhile,uplfting read.Another one of thsoe treasures from a used book sale.