The fact that Madame Burova is set in my wonderful hometown of Brighton was a big draw for me. The fact it centres around a palmist, clairvoyant and tarot reader, Madame Burova was another draw too. The fact it was a brilliant little story rounds off this fact trio nicely.
Opening sentence: Madame Burova was a woman who knew where the bodies were buried.
We meet Imelda Burova in the 1970s, when she inherits her mother’s (the uniquely named Shunty-Mae) booth on the seafront, where people can come to have their cards and palms read. People treat her as a confidant – she gives so many the relief and guidance they are looking for.
The timeline shifts between events in the 1970s and now – when our other lead character, Billie is sadly dealing with the death of her father and learns an astonishing secret about herself – she was adopted. Her parents never mentioned this to her, so when she gets a letter after her father dies (one of the will conditions) from Madame Burova, who knows about her past and wants to help her, Billie is intrigued. Just who were her real parents?
She had thought that a visit to the Foundling Museum might help. But it hadn’t. The buttons, pennies and scraps of cloth left by desperate mothers as tokens by which they could identify their children, should they ever return to collect them, were heartbreaking to see.
As well as Billie and Madame Burova’s lives becoming entwined, the light-hearted story has a fair few serious and thought provoking issues in the narrative too. From racism, misogyny, women’s rights are all woven into the story to give you moment to pause and think.
It was the blending of these elements that gave this book its powerful hook.
Real life inspiration, Eva Petulengro
Ruth Hogan has said that she drew inspiration from Eva Petulengro, a real clairvoyant and tarot card reader of Romany descent who became a legend in Brighton and beyond. I love it when stories have a true inspiration like this. Adds even more to the tale for me.
Imagine my delight when Madame Burova not only conjured up a wonderful vision of the seaside but a tale packed full of charming characters too. I found myself really invested in Billie’s story and my heart broke a little for Madame Burova. I fully encourage you to give it a read and discover the story for yourself!