Skip to main content

Closed Doors

Review

Closed Doors

Eleven-year-old Michael Murray sneaks around, spying on adults and eavesdropping, like kids have done throughout history. But late one night, he hears urgent voices downstairs through the closed doors of his house. That can only mean something is going on that he is not supposed to know about. And from the look on his father’s face, Michael can tell it’s really bad, which just makes the lad more desperate to find out what has happened. In his hometown of Rothesay, a small island community in the west of Scotland, secrets are hard to keep, for everyone knows everyone else’s business. Michael’s Ma and Da should have remembered that.

"Michael Murray is as likable a character as any to come along in a while. In fact, I’m hoping that O’Donnell will find a way to weave another story around him in the near future --- before he grows up much more."

But Rosemary Murray has been badly hurt and wants nothing more than to sweep it away, and try to pretend it happened to someone else. She makes Michael’s Da and Granny promise not to tell anyone. And wee Michael? He must stick to the story his parents have agreed upon, too: that his Ma slipped and fell on their front steps. For an 11-year-old, Michael does a brilliant job of not blabbing. But it’s hard. Fighting frustration, he watches the people in Rothesay getting it all wrong. He hears wild accusations being thrown about against innocent folk, his Da among them. He withstands the name-calling. And when someone else is hurt in the same way as his Ma, he remains loyal to his family and holds his tongue. But at what cost to his own young soul? His usually happy manner takes a beating as does his normally light mood. The secrets he’s keeping are exacting a heavy toll.

Told in Michael’s voice, CLOSED DOORS is at turns heartbreakingly funny, poignant, charming, wise and even beautiful, despite its raw and ugly subject. Woven around the Murray family’s traumas are the childhood good times when young Michael is out in the “Woody” playing with his mates, where sometimes even creepy girls wander around to torture the boys, which conjures up interesting and often conflicting feelings in them. Take, for instance, Dirty Alice, whom Michael hates more than anyone in the whole wide world, and wants to smash her face in, but ends up kissing it instead. When one of his friends says something about her nice, shiny hair, he feels like screaming. “So what if it’s shiny? It’s still Dirty Alice,” he wants to yell back.

Lisa O’Donnell does a stunning job of sounding like a prepubescent boy. She has Michael running along, playing games and hating girls. Then he’s turning around and seeing his mother’s agony through his childlike eyes, and witnessing his father’s attempts to cope, while steering clear of Granny’s watery stew and scones that only Dirty Alice seems able to digest. O’Donnell manages to mix in a good portion of humor with a horrific subject, helping the family work their way through to what one knows has to happen. But how to get there?

Michael Murray is as likable a character as any to come along in a while. In fact, I’m hoping that O’Donnell will find a way to weave another story around him in the near future --- before he grows up much more. He tells such a good tale.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on June 6, 2014

Closed Doors
by Lisa O'Donnell

  • Publication Date: May 20, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 006227189X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062271891