Review: The Unravelling of Maria by F J Curlew (2020)

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Lovers separated by the Iron Curtain.

Two women whose paths should never have crossed.

A remarkable journey that changes all of their lives.

Maria’s history is a lie. Washed up on the shores of Sweden in 1944, with no memory, she was forced to create her own. Nearly half a century later she still has no idea of her true identity.

Jaak fights for Estonia’s independence, refusing to accept the death of his fiancée Maarja, whose ship was sunk as she fled across the Baltic Sea to escape the Soviet invasion.

Angie knows exactly who she is. A drug addict. A waste of space. Life is just about getting by.

A chance meeting in Edinburgh’s Cancer Centre is the catalyst for something very different.

Sometimes all you need is someone who listens.


Huge thanks to the author for inviting me on the blog tour and for providing me with a digital copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. I was drawn to this book for many reasons: I love multiple perspectives, shifting timelines, and learning about the history of places I am unfamiliar with, so I was very intrigued by all the different ingredients of The Unravelling of Maria.

I have to admit, it took me a little bit of time to get used to shifting between the three very different narratives of Maria, Angie and Jaak. In some ways, it feels like three separate stories, completely different in tone and style. However, as the book progressed, I began to enjoy the variety, and the really quite original sensation of moving between ‘modes’. Maria is a delightful character, and her first person narrative is full of charming understatement and wonderfully formal language and expressions which, it becomes clear, are a result of her having to learn an entirely new ‘first language,’ her own native tongue lost to her along with her memories. It’s very clever, and contrasts brilliantly with Angie’s Scots dialect in the sections she narrates. Jaak’s chapters are told in the third person, which has an appropriately distancing effect as we watch history unfold and Estonia move slowly towards independence.

There is a lot happening in this novel, but Curlew balances the many strands with skill, and it was refreshing to read a story with such a wide scope. It feels unfettered, imaginatively daring, boldly taking in grand themes of war, loss, memory and illness as well as the smaller, everyday moments of connection that build up a friendship. I also have to give a shout-out to Albie the dog, whose presence in the novel is like a ray of light – I loved his silliness and stubbornness, and it definitely made me think about how rarely the absolutely central role pets can play in our lives is actually explored in fiction! I also very much appreciated learning more about Estonia’s journey to independence, and I found the sections set in that country fascinating.

This is a novel that grew on me as I read, with Angie in particular making her way into my heart. I love the bond that she forms with Maria, and the way that Maria’s kindness and lack of judgement brings out the best in her new friend. The story is very well-paced; it doesn’t rush towards resolution but takes its time to allow the characters to develop and change: it feels organic and realistic, despite the dramatic events that occur in the book. The ending feels truly earned, sincere and moving and real, and I finished this book feeling very satisfied indeed.

About the Author

Fiona worked as an international school teacher for fifteen years, predominantly in Eastern Europe. Seven of those years were spent in Estonia – a little country she fell in love with. She now lives in East Lothian, Scotland, where her days are spent walking her dog, Brockie the Springer, and writing.

The Unravelling Of Maria is her fourth novel.

Purchase Links

Author Website

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