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Joanne Sheppard (England)
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The Bones of You
The Bones of You
by Debbie Howells
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

3.0 out of 5 stars Has some strong moments, but overall, pretty average, 30 Aug. 2015
This review is from: The Bones of You (Hardcover)
The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells begins with the murder of a teenage girl, Rosie Anderson. Kate, a neighbour, befriends her grieving mother Joanna and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about Rosie's death. The story is told partly from the point of view of Kate, but partly also from the perspective of the deceased Rosie, who pieces together the Anderson family's troubled history as her ghostly presence drifts between present and past.

You may be thinking that this sounds an awful lot like Alice Sebold's bestseller The Lovely Bones. And yes, the basic premise is very much like that. Unfortunately, The Bones Of You is simply not as well-constructed and sensitively written as The Lovely Bones, although it's a reasonably diverting psychological thriller. It's not groundbreaking stuff, and I strongly suspect that I'll have completely forgotten about it in a few months' time, but equally I was keen to keep turning the pages even when I was rolling my eyes at various plot developments.

Although I found The Bones Of You reasonably entertaining, I have some pretty significant criticisms of it, most notably that I felt, from about the halfway point, that it was pretty obvious who murdered Rosie. Certain characters are flagged up so obviously as being the prime suspects from the beginning that we know they absolutely won't be guilty of the murder, and I think most readers would be able to see the 'twist' coming from a mile away. I still wanted to keep reading to find out more about the killer's motive and background, but a few more surprises would have been nice.

Moreover, there are many moments that simply don't ring true. Kate, for example, is a terrible judge of character: she fails to notice that Joanna is painfully thin and never eats anything at at any of their lunch dates, and continues to think that Rosie's father Neil must be perfectly charming even after his wife has turned up in tears on the doorstep as a result of his behaviour.

Like a lot of the 'domestic noir' psychological thrillers that seem to be out there at the moment, the characters are almost universally smug, affluent and oh-so-middle-class. Please can someone start producing some thrillers in this genre in which the characters aren't all people who can afford to own horses and have children with names like Grace and Delphine, and where the men aren't all architects and broadcast journalists while the women do pleasant little 'hobby' jobs like schooling problem horses or garden design?

Where The Bones Of You does succeed is in its uncomfortably chilling, oppressive depiction of emotional (and at times physical) abuse: the portrait of a family keeping up appearances while constantly treading on eggshells is extremely effective - so much so that I found it genuinely disturbing at times. The story of Delphine, Rosie's surviving younger sister, almost edges into modern Gothic at times: a scared, silent girl alone and in peril in a huge house.

In summary, this book is ... well, OK. It has its effective moments, but it's nothing particularly memorable and offers nothing new. It's not terrible, but there are far better examples of the psychological thriller genre out there.


In the Unlikely Event
In the Unlikely Event
by Judy Blume
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative chronicle of an extraordinary year in the life of a small town and its people, 24 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: In the Unlikely Event (Hardcover)
Although Judy Blume has written previously for adults, anyone – certainly any girl – who grew up in the 70s or 80s will be familiar her novels for children and teenagers. Blume was one of a relatively small number of children’s writers prepared to address awkward topics in a way that was non-judgemental and empathetic but often also funny. Friendships, sibling rivalry, the mortifying anxieties of puberty, divorce, first love, racism and even the death are all part of Judy Blume’s fictional world, and yet her stories are full of warmth, wit and hope. I'm sure there are plenty of girls who can truthfully say that they only found what periods were from reading Judy Blume, but in fact, the most important thing I took away from books is that however embarrassing your adolescent mistakes, however different from your peers you think you are and however infuriating your family and friends, you will, eventually, Be All Right.

In The Unlikely Event is in fact not a children's or YA novel, although its main character is a teenager throughout much of the story and Blume's breezily straightforward prose style makes it an easy read that many young adult readers would also enjoy. Set in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1951 it’s a fictional account of an extraordinary year in the town’s real-life history: a year in which three separate passenger planes crashed in the town, entirely by coincidence, killing 118 people. Blume herself, as she explained at an ‘Audience With...’ event I attended at Manchester Central Library while she was promoting the book, was a teenager in Elizabeth at the time, and In The Unlikely Event draws strongly from her own memories of that year, and from local newspaper reports at the time.

Forming the backdrop to the three plane crashes is a fascinating chronicle of various characters' lives, which combine to form a pin-sharp portrait of small town American life in the 1950s that at times reminded me of Grace Metalious' greatly underrated Peyton Place. Although the main character is 15-year-old Miri Ammerman , there are also numerous sections told from the points of view of many other characters – including, most poignantly, a number of crash victims – and beneath the bright, aspirational, wholesome exterior of 1950s America, almost everyone has something to hide.

Miri lives with her pretty, hardworking mother Rusty, her indomitable grandmother Irene and Uncle Henry, a kind, principled local journalist: Rusty has never had a husband but this is rarely spoken of within the family, let alone outside it. By contrast Miri’s friend Natalie appears to have the perfect 1950s nuclear family - affluent, well-dressed and charming. But Natalie herself is soon showing signs of serious emotional disturbance, and her charming father Dr Osner smashes plaster figurines in his office to let off steam. His receptionist Christina has a long-term secret boyfriend her family will never accept because he isn't Greek. Miri's orphaned boyfriend Mason is reveals some shocking facts about his troubled past, but has another secret he can't bring himself to reveal.

Options for the women of Elizabeth are terribly limited – a young woman who dreams of becoming an air stewardess notes that candidates must be ‘single, not married, divorced or separated’ and Miri's headmaster is openly disapproving of her mother's work in a New York department store.

As speculation starts to grow over how three planes could possibly crash over the same town in one year, we're reminded of the paranoia of 1950s McCarthyism and the Cold War - the pupils at Miri's high school constantly share their conspiracy theories, yet are forbidden from writing about the plane crashes in the school newspaper.

And yet, despite the repression and the secrets, the fear that hangs over the town of Elizabeth in the wake of the disasters and the terrible things the people have witnessed, the crashes seem to be a catalyst for change. For some, adversity simply seems to bring out the best in them: Henry, for example, makes his name as a journalist with his perceptive, distinctive reports on the disasters. But for others, the simple realisation not only that life is short but that death can be random seems to spur them to make decisions that will change the course of their lives forever.

In The Unlikely Event is a beautifully evocative read – with cashmere sweaters and powder compacts, dancing to Nat King Cole with a boy who has a pack of Lucky Strikes in his shirt pocket and lingerie shops that specialise in girdles, Blume conjures up a perfect picture of 50s America. Each chapter is introduced by one of Henry’s newspaper articles, all of which are so pitch-perfect for the journalism of the time that it’s hard not to hear them being read in the voice of Ed Murrow. There are occasional appearances by real-life Jewish gangster Longy Zwillman, and Las Vegas is talked of as a soon-to-be-built land of opportunity for modern-day pioneers.

If you read Judy Blume’s books as a child and liked them, you’ll almost certainly like In The Unlikely Event too: Blume’s warmth and sympathy for her own characters really shines through, even as they make terrible mistakes, and her ability to see an adult world through Miri’s teenage eyes is second to none. But this isn’t just a book for Blume fans – it’s an excellent and extremely readable portrait of a community, its relationships and its secrets. The language throughout is straightforward and the plot is episodic rather than complex, but none of this matters, because what Blume is interested in is people: the worries they have, the mistakes they make, the lies they tell and the secrets they keep. The tone of In The Unlikely Event is always understanding, never judgemental, and its end note is very much one of life going on.


Paperchase fine point marker pens - set of 100
Paperchase fine point marker pens - set of 100
Offered by Paperchase
Price: £6.50

2.0 out of 5 stars Not 100 different colours - actually two sets of 50 colours, 14 Aug. 2015
Although you do, as specified, get 100 pens, you don't get 100 different colours - you get 50 colours, with two pens of each shade.

While the bucket-style container is nice and robust, it also makes it annoyingly hard to find the colour you're looking for.

The pens themselves are probably fine for kids, but the quality isn't fantastic - I think you do get what you pay for with fibre-tip pens. These are quite streaky and are also quite 'wet'; I found they roughed up the surface of my paper quite quickly.

If you want this a bucket of pens to put in the middle of the table when your kids are all seated around it drawing or colouring, this would be a reasonable and well-priced buy. Probably not good enough quality for an adult or an arty teenager though.


The Ghost Fields: A Ruth Galloway Investigation
The Ghost Fields: A Ruth Galloway Investigation
Price: £5.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another atmospheric outing for Ruth Galloway - a cracking addition to a great series, 9 Aug. 2015
As I've written before in my reviews of Elly Griffiths' other books, I'm a big fan of the Ruth Galloway series. Ruth herself, a forensic archaeologist, is tremendously likeable, and the series, in which The Ghost Fields is the seventh installment, also features a host of other recurring characters who are convincingly developed from story to story. If you've read any of the previous Ruth Galloway books and are already acquainted with these supporting characters, you'll feel like you're greeting old friends as they make their appearances here.

The Ghost Fields begins with the body of a Second World War fighter pilot unearthed in the buried wreckage of a plane - but Ruth, a local academic seconded to the police to provide expert advice, immediately sees that there's something wrong. The body is certainly that of a man who died in the 1940s, but the field in which he's found is certainly not where he died. More to the point, there's a bullet hole in his skull. Who is the mysterious lost pilot? How did he die? And who, exactly, had a motive for burying his body, not just once, but twice?

It soon becomes clear that the investigation will focus on the Blackstocks, an old, land-owning Norfolk family struggling to keep their increasingly dilapidated manor house standing. I greatly enjoyed meeting the Blackstocks, who are the sort of eccentric failing aristocrats that absolutely still exist in England, but who always seem hopelessly out of step with the 21st century and have sprung from a disturbingly small local gene pool. For all their oddness, I had no trouble believing that this family exists, and Griffiths' observations of them are full of the dry, astute humour that runs through all the books in the series.

The flat, bleak beauty of the North Norfolk coast is used to great effect in The Ghost Fields. Elly Griffiths is adept at creating atmosphere through landscape and a sense of place, and at making the history and geography of the area play a pivotal role in the plots of her novels, and she does this particularly well in this book.

As always, the investigation sees Ruth join forces with DCI Harry Nelson, who to complicate matters is the father of her young daughter Kate after an exceptionally brief affair five years previously, yet still happily married to beautiful Michelle. Generally speaking, I tend to be irritated by on-off, will-they-won't-they, love-hate pairings in fiction, yet somehow Griffiths manages to make the complicated relationship between Ruth and Nelson entirely sympathetic. Fundamentally, Ruth and Nelson are both decent people who try hard to do the right thing; moreover, Griffiths doesn't fall into the easy trap of making Nelson's wife Michelle a character we want to hate - Michelle may be a slim, attractive hairdresser, but she's far from the shallow stereotype she could so easily have become. Instead, she's an intelligent, capable, kind and forgiving woman: it's almost impossible not to like her, and we see a lot more in The Ghost Fields from Michelle's point of view than we have previously.

The crime plot of The Ghost Fields is a little crazy, but definitely in a good way - the investigation itself is one of my favourites in the series so far, and builds to an extremely gripping, fast-paced climax.

The Ghost Fields is an effortless read - I read it more or less one sitting while recovering from a rotten flu-ish cold, and it was the perfect page-turner for that. Despite an often sinister atmosphere, some horribly dark secrets and some genuinely gruesome goings-on, the recurring characters and the dry, observant humour of The Ghost Fields makes it, like the series overall, somehow comforting, not to mention highly immersive.

If you're interested in this series, I'd strongly recommend you read the books in the order of publication, as you'll get much more out of the characters, and understand Ruth and Nelson's relationship much better, if you do. The first in the series is The Crossing Places.


The Child
The Child
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A dark, rollercoaster ride of a thriller - suspend your disbelief and enjoy!, 30 July 2015
This review is from: The Child (Kindle Edition)
Originally published in 2008 as Das Kind, The Child by the hugely successful German author Sebastian Fitzek is now available in an English translation - it can already be downloaded for Kindle, and is out in paperback on 13 August. My copy was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

The Child begins when defence lawyer Robert Stern is introduced to Simon Sachs, a terminally-ill 10-year-old who is firmly convinced that he was a serial killer in a past life. This could easily be dismissed, were it not for the fact that Simon can tell Stern exactly where and how the bodies of his victims are buried - and when Stern investigates, Simon's claims proves to be uncannily accurate.

To complicate matters, when Stern becomes involved in Simon's case, he is immediately targeted by anonymous threats from an unidentifiable individual who claims he has information on Stern's own son, a baby boy who died soon after birth. What follows is a fast-paced, increasingly crazy high-concept thriller in which Stern, Simon, Simon's nurse Carina and Stern's ex-client Andy Borchert take part in a cat-and-mouse chase across Berlin.

It's fair to say that this chase takes us to some pretty dark places: an encounter with a group of paedophiles is particularly grim, and some of the details of the death of Stern's son Felix are also rather harrowing. For the most part, though, it's a high-octane affair featuring guns, sinister conspiracies, a race against time and a mystery criminal mastermind who wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond film. The plot is, frankly, quite daft: don't pick this one up looking for realism.

Although much of The Child is wildly implausible, it does have some interesting characters, including Stern himself and, most notably, Simon, whom Fitzek manages to portray as a remarkably good-natured, likeable child without quite tipping the portrayal over into sentimentality. Stern's irascible father is also fun, and Carina, an old flame of Stern's, is more than just a love interest.

With its frequent cliffhangers, high-concept premise and contrived plot, The Child reminded me somewhat of another translated thriller, After The Crash by French writer Michel Bussi. I did, however, feel that The Child had a little more heart to it, a little more warmth, despite its darker, grittier atmosphere. There are occasional moments of humour in The Child, and I think it perhaps also benefits from a better translation.

Overall, if you cast aside all misgivings of the 'Yeah, but that would NEVER happen...' kind and suspend your disbelief, The Child is a tense, action-packed read that would certainly keep you engrossed on the beach or a long journey.


No Other Darkness (DI Marnie Rome 2)
No Other Darkness (DI Marnie Rome 2)
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark blend of psychological thriller and police procedural, 26 July 2015
Like its predecessor Someone Else's Skin, No Other Darkness is a dark, creepy crime novel - a blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. It begins with the discovery of an underground bunker, hidden below the garden of an ordinary suburban home, which contains the long-dead bodies of two small boys. Their remains, now little more than bones, don't fit the profile of any children reported missing. Who are they? Who imprisoned them? And why?

The investigation into the boys' deaths leads Marnie Rome down various sinister paths, and finds that the case has oblique connections to her own past. A journalist covering the story is an old flame from Marnie's teenage years whose age suggests that their relationship may not have been entirely appropriate, and a troubled 14-year-old foster child reminds Marnie of her own foster brother Stephen, who murdered her parents at around the same age. Noah Jake, Marnie's sergeant, also has a difficult sibling in his life, in the form of his wayward younger brother Sol. Throughout the story, we find out more about the adults in all these children's lives and what damage might have been done by them - although Stephen remains very much an ongoing, unsolved mystery, and readers will, I'm sure, have many of their own theories.

There are some moments of nail-biting tension, as well as vividly-realised characters whose deepest secrets and complex pasts are gradually unravelled: this is as much a whydunnit as a whodunnit. No Other Darkness more than lives up to the promise of its predecessor; in fact I'd say it even exceeds it. Looking forward to the next one already!


Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome 1)
Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome 1)
Price: £0.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, gritty and perceptive crime, 20 July 2015
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Someone Else’s Skin, the debut novel of Sarah Hilary, was named as the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year last week, on the same day I started reading it. It’s a gritty police procedural featuring DI Marnie Rome, a detective haunted by the murder of her parents by her teenage foster brother some years previously.

Someone Else’s Skin takes domestic violence, in all its forms, as a starting point for the mystery that unfolds after a man is stabbed at a women’s refuge. Leo Proctor, the husband of one of the abused women living at the supposed safe house, is stabbed in front of several witnesses by his terrified wife with a knife he has concealed in a bunch of flowers. It seems clear that Hope, whose body bears signs of years of physical and sexual violence, has acted in self-defence and out of sheer terror – but why does she then disappear from hospital after the attack in the company of her apparently stronger, more assured friend Simone? What secrets are the women hiding?

As you’d expect, given the subject matter, Someone Else’s Skin is a dark read – there are some disturbing moments that would not be out of place in a horror novel, although it’s a credit to Sarah Hilary that I found none of the content to be gratuitous. The London setting – grey, rainy, grubby – lends the book a noirish, slightly threatening atmosphere and during the course of the investigation we meet some deeply unpleasant but chillingly plausible characters. The plot itself is full of clever twists and there is no shortage of pace and tension, but one of the things I particularly enjoyed about Someone Else’s Skin is that the mystery comes as much from the psychology of the various characters as it does from the circumstances of the crime plot; Marnie Rome and her team spend more time picking apart suspects’ motives and personalities than they do sifting through physical evidence.

While the standalone plot of Someone Else’s Skin is satisfyingly resolved with no loose ends, a few questions about Marnie, and her parents’ deaths, remain unanswered. However, a second Marnie Rome book has already been published, so I assume Marnie’s intriguing past will be further explored over the course of the series and I suspect this will prove the best way to do it justice. I also suspect that most readers would be delighted to see more of Marnie’s detective sergeant, Noah Jake, and victim support officer Ed Belloc, both of whom are well-drawn characters in their own right.

Someone Else’s Skin is an assured, perceptive, cleverly plotted and frequently outright terrifying debut, with a strong, smart lead in Marnie Rome. If you enjoy the darker realms of contemporary crime fiction, this one is definitely for you.

I’m now off to read the next in the Marnie Rome series, the recently-published No Other Darkness.


The House Where It Happened: A Novel
The House Where It Happened: A Novel
Price: £3.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark historical fiction with a touch of folk horror, 17 July 2015
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The House Where It Happened is set in 1711 and is a fictional account of Ireland's last witch trial, which took place at Carrickfergus, County Antrim. In the novel, a middle-class young woman staying with family at Knowehead, a house rumoured to be haunted, makes a series of accusations about a group of local women. Afflicted by apparent hallucinations and fits, and afflicted with strange, unexplained injuries, Mary Dunbar essentially condemns eight women to torture and imprisonment in horrific conditions.

What makes The House Where It Happened stand out is the location and community in which the story is set. Knowehead is situated on the remote peninsula of Islandmagee, and the Haltridge family who now own it are Ulster Scots – Protestants whose families settled in Ireland a few generations previously, ultimately resulting in a terrible conflict with their Irish neighbours in which an entire community was slaughtered at the command of a mysterious young man called Hamilton Lock. Hamilton Lock, feared and reviled for his appallingly vicious brutality, is long dead, but tales of his almost demonic cruelty still haunt Islandmagee and rumours are rife that his ghost still walks.

Much of The House Where It Happened is more or less folk horror, focusing on the witch-hunt itself. There are questions that go unanswered: while some of Mary Dunbar’s behaviour could be explained away as mental illness or even deliberate attention-seeking, some of her injuries appear not be self-inflicted, and she seems to be able to describe women from the village that she has never met.

Moreover, even before Mary’s arrival, strange and unsettling things have been happening at Knowehead. Is the house literally haunted, or is it simply that the violent history of Islandmagee is hanging over the Ulster Scots community, leaving them with a sort of collective, paranoid guilt?

Or could it possibly be that the very land itself is out for revenge? When Knowehead was first built, a pagan standing stone was destroyed to make way for it – and as the story unfolds, the house itself starts to seem like a sentient symbol of generations of one community being violently displaced by another and former neighbours turning against each other.

The clear parallels of events in The House Where It Happened to the modern day Troubles in Northern Ireland make it an often thought-provoking read, and one which gives a fascinating and often chilling insight into the history of the area. The historical context of the novel, and the notion of not only the community but the land itself having a dark collective memory of what has happened at Islandmagee, are for me the book’s biggest strengths. The use of dialect also gives the novel's prose a distinct identity without making it a difficult read: I'm English and I didn't need to refer to the glossary provided.

When it came to character I felt The House Where It Happened was a little weaker. I did enjoy the fact that Ellen Hill, who narrates the story and has her own misgivings about Knowehead from the start, is the household’s maid: it made a pleasant change for a historical novel to be narrated from a servant’s point of view, and the insights into the limitations and vulnerability of her status were interesting. However, I didn’t feel that the other characters were particularly three-dimensional, and I found it generally quite hard to engage much with anyone in the novel. It’s hard to say what I felt was missing, but even Ellen felt more to me like a symbol of something rather than someone who felt real to me.

The middle section of the book, in which Mary Dunbar’s strange accusations are made an investigated, felt rather repetitive and I would have liked it to have a little more pace. Curiously, however bizarre and sinister the goings-on at Knowehead became, I felt this part of the story sometimes lacked tension and atmosphere – although I admit it’s hard to explain why. Fortunately, this picked up towards the end, with the last few chapters being perhaps the strongest and most powerful in the novel.


Andrew James Ice Cream, Sorbet and Frozen Yoghurt Maker Machine 1.45 Litre + 128 Page Recipe Book - As voted "Best Buy" Ice Cream Maker By Which Magazine
Andrew James Ice Cream, Sorbet and Frozen Yoghurt Maker Machine 1.45 Litre + 128 Page Recipe Book - As voted "Best Buy" Ice Cream Maker By Which Magazine
Offered by Andrew James UK LTD
Price: £69.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't work, 5 July 2015
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This machine simply doesn't work. Followed all instructions to the letter, and after over an hour of churning I was left with a slightly chilled milkshake - no difference at all in consistency from when I put the mixture in. Not even semi-frozen.


Weathering
Weathering
by Lucy Wood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, poetic, life-affirming - but never sentimental, 29 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Weathering (Hardcover)
Weathering is a meandering, almost dream-like novel in which a mother and daughter, Ada and Pepper, return temporarily to the decaying and isolated home of Ada’s recently deceased mother, Pearl. The cottage resists all attempts at renovation as the damp of the adjacent river and the constant rain and snow intrude on a daily basis, and the ghost of Pearl seems to haunt every last corner – literally and figuratively. The relationships between three generations of women are explored as they constantly repeat and reflect one another, and attempt to come to some sort of peace with themselves, each other and their surroundings.

I absolutely loved Weathering, but if you’re looking for a novel with pace and plot, you may want to give this one a miss: the characters’ journeys are slow and difficult, and the narrative is rich with descriptive detail, to the point where the house and the river on which it stands are really characters in themselves. This is a book with an incredible sense of place and atmosphere, and of the effect that one's environment can have on the psyche. Rarely have I read a book which has given me such a strong, almost physical sense of its location.

It’s also a brilliant character study of three women. Six-year-old Pepper is difficult child, excluded from multiple schools, prone to fits of temper and full of blunt questions. She’s capable of developing a fierce fondness for people, yet has little idea how to express this; at the start of the novel she repeatedly butts at Ada's hip rather than giving her a hug, and her disappointment when a feral cat refuses to return her love is poignant. Ada herself, back in the very place from which she spent her whole life planning her escape, seems inept and irresponsible at times; nonetheless, it’s clear that she’s simply trying to do her best under challenging circumstances. Cooking is one of the ways that she not only shows affection and helps herself to feel under control, but also the means through which she begins to find some sort of niche in a village stricken by rural decline. She is also full of guilt at leaving her mother alone – a guilt that’s encapsulated in the blood stains on the floor from her mother’s fatal fall.

Pearl herself, whose death has brought Ada and Pepper back to the house in the first place, begins Weathering as a ghost trapped in the treacherous river, and yet her plight is extraordinarily physical as she struggles against the current and the weeds. Gradually, she fights her way back to the house and makes her presence known in a way that Ada doesn't seem to find surprising; we’re almost straying into magical realism here, albeit in a remarkably unwhimsical manner.

There’s a suggestion that runs through Weathering that only through memory will Ada and Pearl manage to repair their relationship, as each of them dwells on their years living in the cottage together and on Pearl’s unorthodox approach to motherhood. They don’t explicitly discuss this – their interactions are small and few – but in the environment of the cottage, in which the memories of years past seem to be as deeply ingrained in the walls as the ever-present damp, they seem to be reconciled. Pepper, a child whose life so far has lacked continuity and belonging, takes to photographing things as physical record of memory, only to be utterly devastated when she discovers that her camera lacks a film.

The idea of someone coming to a particular place, hating it and then gradually finding happiness by making it their own is not a new one. However, Weathering presents the idea in a way I haven’t seen before, full of ambiguity and frequent unease. There is a strong sense that the battle against the climate and the isolation will never be won, that the house will never be comfortable and dry, and that its occupants can only accept, rather than overcome, this situation. Pepper is as drawn to the river and its bird life as Pearl was before her, and is enchanted by observing them, but never is the landscape romanticised – indeed, the river’s unpredictable currents and sudden rises in water level are a constant threat. Watching the birds means being cold and wet, entangled and scratched by vegetation.

Similarly, every tiny thing at the cottage, whether it's getting the radiators going, making a journey in Pearl's old car or even just painting a wall, presents an exhausting challenge. There is no moment when Ada and Pepper finally triumph in their struggle with the house; when a leak in the roof is fixed, it simply reappears elsewhere.

As a portrait of rural life, Weathering is similarly uncompromising. Ada’s former school friends Judy and Robbie are struggling to keep their farm running, the local pub is frequently empty and serves terrible frozen meals; the village shop is exploitatively expensive, devoid of fresh produce and sells bottled water and bad firewood at inflated prices when the pipes freeze over the winter. And yet somehow, this is where Ada and Pepper realise that they belong.

Weathering is a beautifully written, vivid and captivating novel, bittersweet and occasionally surprisingly funny. There is a sense of melancholy about it, but ultimately, I found it strangely life-affirming.


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