And certainly The Trick To Time more than lives up to that prediction.
Mona is a doll-maker who turns 60 during the course of the book. She is painstaking in her work, collecting the materials she needs to paint and dress her wooden dolls from junk shops and antique sales in her Kent seaside town. Each one is a work of art, carved for her by a mysterious and unnamed carpenter living near the shore.
She also has a sideline helping mothers who have lost babies to imagine the lives those babies would have had.
Mona has good friends who throw a surprise party for her birthday but she lives alone, doesn’t sleep and clearly has an aching void in her life.
Gradually, in a series of flashbacks, we learn about the tragedy that befell her as a young woman of 20 and from which she has never recovered.
These flashbacks are intercut with the story of what seems to be a burgeoning relationship with an older man. He too is sleepless and they first encounter one another when looking out of their flat windows in the middle of the night.
They go on a series of dates but it becomes increasingly clear that Mona is still hampered by her past.
She grew up in the west of Ireland, losing her mother to cancer as a small child. Although close to her father, she felt suffocated by her parochial seaside town, and in the early 1970s moved to Birmingham. She works in a factory, lives in digs and goes dancing on a Saturday night.
She meets William, a charming Irish apprentice who is determined to be a better man than his drunken father. Seeing Mona shivering, he encircles her with his jacket, beginning a passionate relationship which quickly leads to marriage and Mona’s pregnancy.
Mona’s labour coincides with the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974 and it is not a good night to have an Irish accent in the city. Events spiral out of control, forcing Mona and William apart and leaving Mona no option but to return to Ireland.
Kit de Waal, author of My Name Is Leon, has a masterly ability to create atmosphere. She evokes the straitened world of the three-day week and grim digs where you need coins to feed the gas meter. She reminds us how unsympathetic maternity and mental health care were as recently as 1974.
The awkwardness of the relationship between Mona and her would-be lover is brought vividly to life and there is a twist at the end I hadn’t seen coming.
The Trick To Time is an emotionally engaging novel but relentlessly sad.