I was kindly provided with a copy of Lynn Mitchell’s The Red Beach Hut by the publisher, Linen Press. This has not affected my review in any way.
“Their eyes met and locked. Pulling his hand from his pocket, Neville waved. Once.”
Eight year old Neville is the first to notice that the red beach hut is occupied again.
Abbott, panicked by what he believes is a homophobic cyber attack, is on the run. The hut is his refuge and shelter.
Inevitably man and boy collide. Their fleeting friendship is poignant, honest and healing. But Abbot’s past threatens to tear him away, as others watch and self-interpret what they see.
An evocative portrayal of two outsiders who find companionship on a lonely beach, Lynn Michell’s novel is about the labels we give people who are different, and the harm that ensues.
The Red Beach Hut is a beautifully written book that takes two outsiders and throws them together in the unlikeliest of circumstances. This is one of the rare books where I thought the child’s point-of-view was truly written. Normally I either find a child’s point-of-view too simplified or too mature, but here Michell has got it absolutely right. Neville’s wonderful way of looking at the world is contrasted to the horrible circumstances surrounding Abbott, and reminds both the adult characters and readers that there is beauty in ugliness and a calm within a storm.
Neville and Abbott are an unlikely pair – Abbott is a gay youth worker who is running from a homophobic cyber attack, and Neville is a young child who is obsessed with counting. (It is implied that he is on the Asperger’s spectrum.) Because of the structure of the novel, which begins with a fraught scene where Abbott tells Neville to run and hide, their relationship is filled with tension for the reader. A lot of questions are posed, and slowly through a series of flashbacks, are answered.
I thought this was a decent book that explored what it means to be different in Britain today, fully acknowledging that although prejudice and misunderstanding can be found everywhere, there is a childish joy to be found in the world too.
There are trigger warnings for sex work, homophobia, Islamophobia, child abuse, and discussion of paedophilia.