Cat Step by Alison Irvine

Cat Step is a gripping novel about how things can fall apart under pressure, after a single mother leaves her daughter alone in the car whilst she nips into the shop. Liz moves to Lennoxtown in Scotland with her four-year-old daughter Emily, to get a house ready for sale and give her mother—who they’d been living with—a break. She’s sure this can be a fresh start for them, but after an incident outside the Co-op, it seems everyone is in their business, and it’s not easy to go back to being unknown.

The book draws you in from the opening pages, in distinctive prose, as it unfolds Liz’s perspective and the incident with leaving Emily in the car that sparks off the narrative. I wasn’t quite sure why I was gripped so quickly from the start, but I was, and I read most of the book in one evening. The way people judge Liz, and the difficulty she has in improving circumstances once things start to go less well, feels very realistic, and Cat Step is a really interesting exploration of how motherhood intersects with other things, like mental health, community, and class. Judgement and advice are particularly notable, like Liz’s instinctive disdain for how she is offered advice and support in a patronising or forceful way, like being told she should go to parental support group.

This is literary fiction with a thriller-like need to read on and a moving look at a character trying to keep things from falling apart. The narrative isn’t trying to be sensational, but is sparse and almost claustrophobic in the ways Liz becomes trapped, making it an ideal one for sitting down with and reading all at once.

(Thanks to Dead Ink Books for the proof copy!)