Eleanor Thom’s Connective Tissue begins as two stories across time, but they weave together to reveal an emotionally complex and compassionate whole, exploring just how family ties connect and affect us. In Scotland, in 2010, Helena’s baby is born with a rare medical condition which causes paralysis. Failing to find sufficient answers or even support from the medical establishment (her fellow new mothers become her greatest allies), she begins a deep dive into her family history, particularly that of her grandmother, Dora, who ended up in Scotland after escaping Berlin in the 1930s. Although this is fiction, it’s rooted in Thom’s own family history and experience, and the choice to make it fiction is at the novel’s heart.
It’s literally a story from the cradle to the grave, and the manner in which it unfolds is exquisite. Ideally, you shouldn’t notice how a tale is told, as doing so can take you out of the story – and I must emphasise that doesn’t happen as you read Connective Tissue – but upon reflection you have to admire the craft and care with which Eleanor Thom entwines the narratives. It’s intricate, yet never intrusive. There is an honesty and directness in addressing what are extremely emotive and emotional subjects, which is rare. This may be the result of the ‘true stories’ which form the basis of the book. Both Helena and Dora’s lives feel utterly real, yet the fictional dimension allows a separation, informed speculation, and artistic licence which wouldn’t sit well in memoir. For instance, Dora appears to Helena when she needs her, ‘[…] smoking a Woodbine and reading a book.’ Helena isn’t sure if this is down to the drugs she is on, or something more metaphysical. And neither is the reader.
Connective Tissue is bursting with love across generations, looking back to better understand not only who you are, but who you wish to be. But there is also the fundamental, even existential, fear of loss and the dread of despair, which many will recognise. Eleanor Thom makes you care deeply for Helena and Dora, but the ‘connectivity’ of the book’s title does not only apply to the central characters, or even the real people who inspired them, but also that between the writer and readers. Few novels are so deeply and identifiably human.
Connective Tissue is published by Taproot Press