I feel that this book was written, even torn, deep from Mary Webb's soul, and it is with this same part of myself that I was led, by the majesty of her writing, to read it. It left me with feelings and thoughts that are linked to something wonderful and mysterious, a faint strain of music, a taste, a touch of something both tangible and elusive. It is one of the most potent things I have ever read. I absolutely love this book, but don't expect it to be a romance with the usual endings, everything about it is unique, uplifting and disturbing.
It is book about conflict, of nature and spirituality, of the earth and heaven, of woman and man, of goodness and evil, truth and hypocrisy, the wild and the tame. It has a similar theme to David Garnett's "Lady into Fox" but with a much broader and deeper span. Mary Webb is an unrecognised genius and we are the poorer for not experiencing and honouring her works.
These enormous themes are explored through Hazel, an impoverished young girl who is a self-contained free spirit, her world is all of nature, the plants, animals and the love, connection and protection she has for them all. As men and the world enter her life, we see how her purity is threatened and distracted. One man is a clergyman and offers her safety and spiritual love, the other a brute, who kills all she loves but yet entices her sexual instincts. She is such an innocent, without the intellect to understand anything of what she feels. As the story progresses, we see how she becomes increasingly torn. I don't want to give away the ending, although you may guess, but please read it, it is like one long beautiful poem that will, if you allow it, open and deepen your sense and appreciation of nature, life and truth.