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The Earth Hums in B Flat [Paperback]

Mari Strachan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 May 2010
Gwenni Morgan is not like any other girl in this small Welsh town. Inquisitive, bookish and full of spirit, she can fly in her sleep and loves playing detective. So when a neighbour mysteriously vanishes, and no one seems to be asking the right questions, Gwenni decides to conduct her own investigation. She records everything she sees and hears: but are her deductions correct? What is the real truth? And what will be the consequences of finding out, for Gwenni, her family and her community?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Main edition (6 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847673058
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847673053
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'I loved this debut, which manages to give a young girl's narrative an authentically quirky aspect, without ever resorting to cutesiness or cosiness ... Strachan eschews whimsy for reality in a beautifully written story about growing up.' Independent on Sunday

About the Author

Mari Strachan has been immersed in books all her life. She has worked as a librarian in academic, school, public, private and prison libraries. She has also been a book reviewer, researcher, translator, copy writer and web editor. She and her husband live part-time on a tiny smallholding in the hills of Ceredigion, West Wales, and part-time on a narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal in London, where much of The Earth Hums in B Flat was written.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
159 of 164 people found the following review helpful
The book starts gently, easing the reader into the world of Gwenni Morgan, a young girl who is fascinated by everything and everyone around her. The author, Strachan, introduces a splendidly entertaining cast of misfits and eccentrics, made all the more entertaining because they feel so real. In 1950s Welsh village life, everyone knows everyone's business but no-one ever says a thing.

Gwenni is a wide-eyed, captivated observer of everything that goes on. She describes the people, their clothes, their mannerisms - often in hilarious terms but always in manner consistent with her charming character. Strachan does a splendid job of maintaining Gwenni's voice and personality throughout.

It is this attention to detail that makes the story so beguiling. It quickly gathers pace with a missing man, police enquiries and a murder investigation all careering headlong into a surprising - and yet entirely logical - climax.

This is one of those books you read at one sitting, tea and biscuits at your side and a big 'Do Not Disturb' notice on the door. Superb.
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93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone knows and no-one says 23 Feb 2009
By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
According to Wikipedia, an ingénue is "a girl or a young woman who is endearingly innocent and wholesome". She is generally accompanied, as foil, by a vamp and there is often a romantic subplot featuring a young man just as innocent as the ingénue.

On this template, Mari Strachan has constructed a beautiful story set in a small Welsh village within sight of Snowdon in the late 1950s.

The ingénue is Gwenni Morgan, poised at the very end of childhood, who is bright, imaginative and therefore considered "odd" by her stolid peers, mother and sister. Her Kindred Spirit and Best Friend, Alwenna, is the knowing vamp, who has just discovered boys. Gwenni's `romantic interest' comes towards the end and is hardly that, a merest precursor for what is to come.

It is a truth universally understood that remote rural villages are hotbeds of illicit relationships overlaid with secrets and lies. The death of one of the villagers leads to an investigation and Gwenni is determined to play detective. Her relentless, innocent "childish" questions directly challenge the protective hypocrisy all around. It's scary stuff.

Ms Strachan has a wonderful feel for poverty in the 1950s. Her descriptions of the Morgans' domestic life: bed-sharing, paper thin walls, freezing cold, disgusting food, baths in front of the fire, a relentless lack of privacy, draw one into a life before this one. I am old enough to remember this the first time round and it certainly felt horribly authentic.

The plot is carefully handled, and the book rapidly becomes a real page turner.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching story about a loss of innocence 25 Mar 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The first thing I noticed when reading "The Earth Hums in B Flat", the debut novel by Mari Strachan, is that the author entered the mindset of a girl on the brink of adolescence in an utterly convincing manner.

Set in Wales in the 1950s, "The Earth Hums in B Flat" is a tale told in the first person of Gwenni, a young girl who is considered 'odd' by her mother and older sister, mainly due to her over-active imagination and her need to know the truth. Her innocent curiosity into the adult world and the way grown-ups behave compels her to turn detective when a local man is murdered.

While Gwenni is clearly still clinging on to parts of childhood (her doll, her daydreaming) she is also forced into adulthood almost against her will (finding out that a boy likes her, starting her periods, looking after her family). The reader is shown this transition in all its painful awkwardness. The way Gwenni escapes from her troubles and her suffocating family life is to imagine herself flying above the village whilst listening to the earth sing. This imagery is stunning.

As a reader, you find yourself in the unique position of knowing more than your heroine. I understood what was happening to the village and Gwenni's family and why her parents were acting and reacting in the way they were before Gwenni did, and it was interesting to watch her work things out in her own way. As it turns out, Gwenni is an extremely clever young lady who understands her community better than anyone else as she learns to ignore the local gossips and uncover the truth, even though ultimately it is a truth that must remain hidden.

I think "The Earth Hums in B Flat" is a beautifully written and utterly compelling book.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Whimsically wishy-washy 8 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I managed to get through a sizeable chunk of this book, Mari Strachan's debut novel, but ultimately found it utterly unreadable and had to admit defeat. This was partly a personal reaction - I don't think I was the right reader for it at all - but I still think that whatever mood I had approached it in I would have found it badly written and unoriginal. The synopsis sounded fairly cliched, with the story centring around a twelve-year-old girl in a small Welsh town who determines to take matters into her own hands after the mysterious disappearance of one of her neighbours, but it can be particularly refreshing when authors deliberately take on a cliché and do it well, so I decided to give the book a go anyway, especially when it came with an endorsement from Catherine O'Flynn, whose `What Was Lost' - also centring around a child detective - I loved.

However, my major problem wasn't with the plot, but with the style of narration. The main character, Gwenni, is nearly thirteen, but sounded closer to eight or nine, and although I see other reviewers have argued that she's meant to sound young for her age, I found this incredibly grating. This is probably where my own personal taste comes in - I really disliked Gwenni, finding her `whimsicality' and `imagination' difficult to take, and I can see that if you felt more of an affinity with the character, the book would probably be an easier read. Nevertheless, the writing style is still clunky and confusing - character after character is dropped in, but never brought to life, so I found myself lost in a sea of names. I also got no sense of the Welsh landscape or the particularities of Gwenni's town at all, despite the use of Welsh dialect.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book.
Published 10 days ago by christine
4.0 out of 5 stars Village life (as it was)
This was an interesting book and like an onion had many layers. It reminded me in many ways of The Curious Case of the dog in the night time. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Alysha
5.0 out of 5 stars Within a few pages I was hooked brilliant book !
Great read , very unusual story I was transported to the village where it was set a true credit to the author , well written beautiful , sad and humorous all in one . Read more
Published 23 days ago by mrs j h degay
5.0 out of 5 stars The Earth Hums in B Flat
A good read, well enjoyed by fellow book club members. All were so pleased to lend support to a local writer
Published 1 month ago by MEGAN L W ILLIAMS
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful
This was an impulse buy, but one of those very happy surprises which I would heartily recommend to those of you who enjoy slightly offbeat stories. Read more
Published 1 month ago by vindiva
5.0 out of 5 stars Good reading.
Starting this book, I was a bit put off by the childlike narrative, but continued reading. Very soon, I was really enjoying both the characters, and the unusual story line. Read more
Published 1 month ago by BEN
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept me thoroughly absorbed.
I absolutely loved this book. It is well written, full of interesting characters. Took me back to my childhood when I visited my best friend's Welsh family. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Stickinsect
5.0 out of 5 stars Different, and excellent
Although intially, it took me a while to get into The World Hums in B Flat, once I did I loved it. It reminded me of Under Milkwood, perhaps because it was set in Wales, but also... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. Frances I. Howard-brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written tale of how mental illness affected a family
Gwennie and her sister Bethan are as different as two girls could be, but Gwennie' s story of life in west Wales just after the war is harsh but tremendously heartwarming. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gill-EJ
3.0 out of 5 stars The Earth Hums in B Flat
Although we'll written I found this a bit slow, had difficulty keeping myself interested. Some of the characters I really liked but most didn't really care about.
Published 1 month ago by Teresa Jewett
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