Sarah Carroll makes her first mark the literary scene with her beautiful and moving debut novel The Girl in Between, a story which is sure to quickly gain recognition amongst peers and readers alike.
In Dublin, a homeless mother and daughter seek refuge from the streets in an old and crumbling mill, but to the little girl the mill is a magical castle cut off from the outside world, bad men and even the ‘Authorities’.
The ‘Authorities' are the dangerous grown-ups in the hi-vis jackets, who at first glance will whisk the little girl away from her Ma and lock her up in care. The Authorities, coppers and do-gooders are all in on it together and nobody is to be trusted - the castle and its moat (the canal) are what protect this little princess. In order to stay safe with Ma, she must remain hidden behind the walls of the abandoned mill and always be invisible.
Apart from Ma, who is spiralling downwards and out of control, the little girl's only other friend is Caretaker, who lives on the pavement beside the decrepit mill. Caretaker is an elderly man with his own quirks and could quite easily be mistaken for nothing more than a bundle of unwashed blankets along the side of the street. Our young protagonist wonders if after years on the streets Caretaker has succumbed to madness; however his hidden face contains lines of grief, with their own tales of woe to tell and ghosts to mourn.
The ways in which Caretaker, Ma and the little girl negotiate their daily lives brings into sharp focus the harsh reality of homelessness - an appalling epidemic affecting Ireland right now. A life spent running from the authorities, seeking shelter in abandoned shacks and solitary tunnels, scavenging food from bins and five-minute washes in the sinks of public restrooms. It is a life without comfort or security, and a daily uphill battle to survive. All the people begging on the streets become invisible to most - as Ma discerns, there are three types of people and only one faction will spare her a glance, let alone the change that can help them survive another day, another night.
Despite the tragedy of their circumstance, the overall atmosphere is one of upbeat innocence. Carroll's tale is told from the little girl’s point of view, and as such negates an adult’s hindsight and ability to recognise their worsening situation. Children are predisposed to happiness and through play, imagination and fantasy the little girl makes the most of everything she has - an old couch, some empty cardboard board boxes, a single of chips. The narrative style also evokes a young child’s irrevocable love for their parents and their innate ability to forgive the unforgivable.
This is a moving and tender story with a brilliant twist at the end, one which will shock the reader to the core and make the heart wrench. Wonderfully written and perfectly concluded, the last pages of Carroll’s debut brings everything into focus, adds depth and layers, and affords the reader a special affinity for The Girl in Between.
The Girl In Between is published by Simon & Schuster