Homeless Kelly witnesses a horrific accident in Glasgow which sets her on a course towards her hometown in Galloway. Paper Cup by Karen Campbell is Kelly’s story as she faces her long-buried demons and receives gestures of kindness from complete strangers. A new author for me, I found the first few pages slow to get into but I persevered and was glad I did. There are many ‘finding yourself’ road trip novels – THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce being the first that comes to mind – and most are uplifting, verging on the sentimental. This one is different. Campbell’s gritty portrayal of Kelly’s struggles, and finally the truth of why she is a vagrant, challenges the reader to be open-minded and compassionate.
A long way from home, cadging pennies to buy the alcohol which keeps her going from day to day, Kelly blocks out troubling memories until a lost ring gives her purpose and a forlorn puppy becomes a companion. Re-learning to love and care for Collie [short for Cauliflower] redirects Kelly’s self-focus and gives her strength to put one step in front of the other. Kelly originally starts walking in order to return an engagement ring to a drunken bride who, on her hen night, didn’t realise that in the pile of coins she left at a dosser’s feet was her diamond ring.
This is a generous, sympathetic portrayal of a character who is lost in so many ways and Campbell encourages us to be kind and less judgemental. In order to move on emotionally, Kelly must open the box full of bad memories and be kind to herself. During an encounter with a minibus of tourists, Kelly is given a leaflet. ‘Pilgrims’ Progress. Travel through Scotland in the footsteps of saints and sinners.’ She decides to follow the map. Four places in four days. ‘Her own wee walkabout’ alone amongst the heather. ‘And the best of it is, no one knows she is here.’ Meanwhile Kelly is pursued from Glasgow by friends, and a journalist keen to tell her story.
There is Glaswegian slang but after a few pages I just learned to go with the flow of language. Kelly walks through a beautiful part of the world and Campbell’s description brings this to life, always tempered with edginess which brings us back to Kelly’s past and present, the sad reasons for her homelessness and alcoholism.
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If you like this, try:-
‘The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman’ by Julietta Henderson
‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ by Emma Hooper
‘Mobile Library’ by David Whitehouse
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PAPER CUP by @writerkcampbell #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Sj via @SandraDanby