In this quiet allegory of love, loss and the healing powers of imagination, an unnamed narrator loses someone she loves--"It does not matter who that person was or what sort of love it had been"--and needs time to recover. She yearns to travel to a foreign country but can't. Yet her need for escape is such that, during a restless evening walk to a local village, she finds herself whisked back in time to the early 1400s.
Through her, we're drawn into the villagers' lives, loves and deaths: the woman who sees devils; Sally, aged 14, pregnant and married to the man who finds the beached mermaid; the shoemaker and his wife, whose passion sparks the moment they meet, and endures beyond death; the priest and the leper.
Following a series of events that seem extraordinary to the modern eye, but unexceptional to the villagers--miraculous cures, a monstrous birth, the mermaid's brief appearance-- a small party sets out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Julia Blackburn--whose previous novel The Book of Colour was shortlisted for the Orange Prize--weaves her intricate four-dimensional tapestry from the simplest of threads. Her lucid and absorbing tale highlights both the otherness and the warm familiarity of the past, and unfolds the processes of grief and recuperation to show how life can grow out of loss. --Lisa Gee
As beautifully written and as profoundly researched as all Julia Blackburn's work (Spectator
A remarkable evocation of another time and another frame of reference (Daily Telegraph
Julia Blackburn has an extraordinary talent for thinking herlsef into other worlds... Reading her book, you experience the uncanny sensation that you have somehow always known these places (Evening Standard
She wears her talents like a modern Renaissance woman with elegance and affable ease (The Times