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The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird

Title: The Emporium of Imagination

Author: Tabitha Bird

Genre: Magical Realism

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Published: 30th March 2021

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A captivating novel of magical realism about a fantastical shop that brings comfort, peace and hope to those in need. You won’t want to miss the opening of this shop!

From the author of A Lifetime of Impossible Days (winner of the Courier-Mail People’s Choice QLD Book of the Year Award) comes this beautiful and uplifting story, that will make you laugh and make you cry.

Welcome to The Emporium of Imagination, a most unusual shop that travels the world offering vintage gifts to repair broken dreams and extraordinary phones to contact lost loved ones.

But, on arrival in the tiny township of Boonah, the store’s long-time custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, makes a shocking realisation. He is dying . . .

The clock is now ticking to find his replacement, because the people of Boonah are clearly in need of some restorative magic.

Like Enoch Rayne – a heartbroken ten-year-old boy mourning the loss of his father, while nurturing a guilty secret.

Like Ann Harlow, who has come to the town to be close to her dying grandmother. Though it’s Enoch’s father who dominates her thoughts – and regrets . . .

Even Earlatidge in his final days will experience the store as never before – and have the chance to face up to his own tragedy . . .

~*~

Tabitha Bird’s second novel is an exquisite and touching foray into grief and its impacts through the lens of magical realism, and a shop, an emporium that is filled with old world and vintage delights, and acts as a point of contact for the living to hear final messages from their deceased loved ones. But the custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray has 21 days to find a new custodian before he dies. And so begins Earlatidge’s journey. He soon meets two people: Ann, who has come to help her grandmother who is dying, and has a son, Benny, to take care of. And Enoch, a ten-year-old boy who has just lost his father, and is trying to deal with his own grief, as well as his family’s, as he and his brothers navigate a world without parents, a world where they are orphans.

Yet Enoch harbours a special talent, and he feels things more deeply than his brothers or grandmother, who seem to have moved on faster than he has or are at least trying to move on. Enoch feels left behind and blames himself for his father’s death. Ann, a nurse, is grappling with her dying grandmother. With a world that will forever change. Both are summoned to the Emporium but do not feel they can answer their calls. Told using three perspectives, across three weeks, The Emporium of Imagination explores death and grief in its aftermath and leading up to the inevitable, and how we as individuals deal with these tragic events.

Tabitha uses three perspectives – Earlatidge, Enoch and Ann, with Ann and Enoch telling their stories in first person, whilst Earlatidge tells his in third person. Each voice is distinct and natural and allows the reader to gain a deep understanding of each character, their stories, their lives and their grief as the story progresses and the life if the emporium begins to mirror Earlatidge’s life.

Accompanying Earlatidge is Pickled Onions, a cat that comes with the Emporium and is often guarding the key and is tasked with helping find the new shopkeeper and the new custodian. There is a mystery in this too – who will take over from Earlatidge and will the emporium survive, or will it continue to die as time slips through Earlatidge’s fingers? It is a book filled with mystery and magical realism, with nods to history or older literature, to books that we once knew as kids, and that makes this a read filled with bits of nostalgia peppered throughout that will speak to readers of all generations, showing that nostalgia and connection to those who we miss is as much a part of us as what is going on in our lives at the moment.

Filled with family and intriguing hints that are all pulled together in sad and happy ways in a book that takes us on a compelling emotional rollercoaster, The Emporium of Imagination was one that I found difficult to set aside. I wanted to know what happened and how it happened, and why. The why questions became stronger and more pressing in the latter half of the novel. Each aspect is crucial and powerful, contributing to the overall story, the plot and the characters. It is filled with emotions – hope, despair, and allows the characters to explore the world around them and their grief and what it means to live in the world with the pain they are going through and what it means to be alive whilst those they love are dead or dying. It is as much about acceptance and finding yourself and those who care about you as it is about grief and the impact of grief, and what it means and does to different people.

This evocative and unique book is heartbreaking, touching and hopeful. It is filled with a meditative feeling of grief, sense of self and the need to eventually confront the truth and an understanding that people have secrets for reasons that we may not understand, and that sometimes, are there to protect others. It is a remarkable book that starts slowly and meditatively but is as compelling as the biggest thriller or fast-paced mystery around. The slow, meditative feel of this book is what makes it enjoyable.

Set in March 2021, it was refreshing to read a story where the pandemic is non-existent. So many of our every days stories, and even the television shows I watch mention or touch on the pandemic. It feels good to read something set in 2020 or 2021 where we aren’t reminded of it. The novel does explore the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as it forms the basis and backstory of one of the characters, and perhaps this is enough tragedy to explore in this book. It feels light not having to read about the pandemic in fiction, and perhaps there will be some books that dwell on this or deal with it. For now, I am happy for authors to forgo the pandemic, especially if it helps the story to have a COVID-free world, as well as allowing readers to escape this world for the time they are reading the book.

I loved the way everything came together in this book. It was both expected and unexpected, as well as what I hoped would happen. There were times of tension, yet they didn’t feel as anxious as some books do. Just enough to drive the plot forward and give us hope. This delightful and touching book is filled with nostalgia, as I said before, and hope, but can also bring a tear to your eye, so read this with a box of tissues beside you!

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