Paper Cup by Karen Campbell

This was a heart-wrenching story. Nothing about it rings untrue, making it sadder than it is. I am used to watching and reading books set in the US, which is why to see a story about a homeless woman in Scotland felt quite different, and it was not just the language used either.
This is not for the faint of heart. The author leaves no stone unturned to show our lead protagonist’s desperation and pain in the form of the most basic indignities.
When the story begins, it is easy to mistake it for a contemporary narrative with the focus being on a woman on her bachelorette and with pretty ridiculous friends (or so it felt). This woman ends up tipping the homeless person she ends up confiding in. The book, however, is about that homeless person.
Kelly’s story is not a linear one. We know she has her demons and is an alcoholic whose addictions have ruined her life. She finds herself in possession of the bride’s engagement ring and feels duty bound to return it to her. Her initial attempts are thwarted by many who thought her crazy. She wanted to do something simple, but her very presence had people responding in a very aggressive fashion.
Kelly then sets off on the journey to return the ring on her own, but given her mental state, it takes longer than it should with many diversions. The main one is a pilgrimage of sorts to visit the past, both in her mind and physically.
There is nothing cheery about the plot. If ever there’s a ray of sunshine, we are soon shown how long it is practically possible for it to be useful to someone in Kelly’s situation. It is nothing like any other book I have read. It was not dark enough for me to set it aside and move on, but despite the almost perfect ending, it felt profound.
I must admit to not being bold enough to approach/respond to the people on the street. I have not directly said anything nasty, but having read a book from the other point of view, even that mild shunning feels like a pretty bad stance to take. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to brave a trip along a very different journey.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is based on my own reading experience.


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