159 of 164 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly comic tale of 1950s life, death and eccentricity
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...
Published on 9 Mar 2009 by Voracious reader
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Whimsically wishy-washy
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...
Published on 8 Jun 2009 by Laura T
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159 of 164 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly comic tale of 1950s life, death and eccentricity,
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.
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone knows and no-one says,
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. The intelligence in this book is that even as the reader reaches the end, and has the momentary illusion that all loose ends have been definitively tied up, there comes a realisation that all of what we think we know is in fact ambiguous. We may hope that Gwenni has finally come to a complete understanding, but she does have a habit of putting the best complexion on things.
The first person narrative style and linear development make this a suitable book for the `young adult' as well as adult market. It was also serialised on BBC Radio 4's "A Book at Bedtime". Highly recommended.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching story about a loss of innocence,
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. It would certainly appeal to teenagers as well as young adults, and Gwenni is a hugely likeable character. I did find myself feeling a little sad knowing that I was watching a child rapidly losing her innocence, knowing that she would never be able to go back. Thoroughly recommended.
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Whimsically wishy-washy,
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.
I admit that I'm probably being particularly hard on this novel because I've seen it done before, and done much better. Susan Fletcher's debut, `Eve Green', also features a young girl in a Welsh setting who investigates a mysterious disappearance, but diverges sharply from this novel because of its completely convincing eight-year-old narrator and marvellous descriptive writing and atmosphere. It also comes dangerously close to cliché and has a few scenes that didn't quite work for me, but is overall a wonderful read. If you liked this book, I'd definitely recommend you try that one as well, and if you disliked this, but were intrigued by the synopsis, it might be a good alternative.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family secrets,
This review is from: The Earth Hums in B Flat (Kindle Edition)
I have read this book as a book club recommendation and would probably otherwise never have found it. It centres upon the life and family secrets of 12 year-old Gwennie who speaks intelligently but innocently of her life. She is sure she can fly - definitely in her dreams and possibly by day if she can only remember how she did it when she was small! We discover long-hidden family stories and are made to ponder the meaning of family, genetics, inheritance.
I found the style easy to read but very gripping. Gwennie's childish enthusiasm pulled me in. I warmed very much to the character of her father but found myself despising her mother for her treatment of Gwennie, her second child.
There's lots to think about in this book and I enjoyed it very much.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do better - but a promising debut,
This is an interesting book because it has many different strands. The problem is that the strands are never really brought together to a satisfactory conclusion, so I put down this book feeling a little let-down. On the surface, it's an original and excellent premise: young Gwenni, who either has supernatural 'flying' powers or a very vivid imagination, is growing up in poverty in 1950s Wales with a loving father, a selfish older sister and an irascible mother. When a member of the village is killed this sets the ball rolling for a family secret to be unveiled and Gwenni's life is irrevocably altered, though maybe not for the worse.
Strachan's attention to detail is beautiful and her prose is evocative. Gwenni is an enchanting character. Her imagination is a joy to the reader (the Toby jugs were my favourite characters!) and you quickly become fond of her. However, the reader is never quite sure that they really know her. Beyond her imagination she has no characteristics which make her fully rounded.
I wanted to stay up late to finish the book, but ultimately I was left dissatisfied on several accounts. The "coming of age" promised with the revelations about boys and sex never really materialises; the characters of the best friend and sister are two-dimensional; the behaviour of Gwenni's sister and mother is never taken to task and is just accepted, which I found unrealistic; and the book fizzes out, rather than coming to a satisfying conclusion. On the whole the story was warm and promising, but didn't deliver on all counts. I would certainly read a second book by this author, but for a more solid and enjoyable read of childhood try A Jarful of Angels by Babs Horton.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly charming,
This review is from: The Earth Hums in B Flat (Paperback)
When I first read the synopses I groaned and thought 'oh not another plucky girl playing detective book' (not that I read many of those, but it just didn't sound very original.) But it has some brilliant reviews so I gave it a shot.
The book is more about a small community rather than individuals or a missing neighbour (which only plays a small part in the book). Set in a small Welsh village in the 1950's, Gwenni introduces her family and the more colourful characters in the village she inhabits. Its the kind of village where everyone goes to church, everybody knows everyone else's business and gossip is rife.
The writing could be described as vibrant and charming, its an easy read and one to curl up with. When Gwenni first introduces herself and claims that she can fly in her sleep I did wonder where it was going and what kind of book this was going to be. As it turns out Gwenni does need to escape in her dreams as a way of making sense of the very adult world around her. Its not exactly a coming of age story but more about Gwenni learning about the adult village life and the harsh life lessons (and skeletons) that entails.
This turned out to be a real gem of a book and one I really enjoyed.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you want in a novel,
Mari Strachan's first novel has everything you could possibly wish for in a novel; a gripping plot simply yet beautifully told, living breathing characters, a fascinating setting and a depth of understanding of the human character that is truly breathtaking.
Gwenni is approaching adolescence with all its problems and joys. She lives in a small Welsh village in the 1950s with her mother, father and older sister Bethan. Gwenni's relationships with her family, other villagers, schoolfriends and chapel are told in the voice of a young teenager who is both lost in her childhood fantasies and slowly beginning to make sense of the adult world. The picture which is painted is that of material poverty yet richness of experience, love and tradition.
Gwenni solves a murder by slowly realising what she knew all along, solves the mystery of her sister's illegitimate birth and her mother's mental illness, all without fanfare but through a gradual awakening to the wider world. A moving account of life's hardships with no sugary ending, this book is one that stays with you long after it is finished. Superb!
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suffers from rather unlikeable characters,
It was really something of a struggle to read this. While the writing style is clear and personal (that's not an issue), the real problem I had was the combination of very little actually happening while many of the characters are one-dimensional and highly unlikeable.
After about half the book, then there is some purpose to what the central character is doing, and you do get some sympathy as she figures out what is actually going on and how things have changed, but until then I found little to hold my interest. The primary supporting characters (such as a vicious and unstable parent) are the main problem, seeming arbitrarily intolerant while others just pander to their worst efforts.
My final impression was that the writing style is competent enough, but the story and characters needed a lot more work, and as a result I cannot recommend this book.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but readable,
Mari Strachan creates a loving and detailed recreation of 1950s Wales in The Earth Hums in B flat. The unreliable narrator, Gwenni, is a precocious peri-pubertal girl with magical realistic tendencies, an optimistic outlook and a fondness for interpreting things literally.
This last point was one of the two main failings of this book - the central murder mystery would surely be obvious from the start, even to a girl of Gwenni's age? The other weak point was Gwenni's father - I still have no idea as to his motivation and why he acted as he did. I appreciate that his actions are being filtered through the loving eyes of his daughter, but still...
So, despite the excellent writing and (semi) satisfying ending, only 3 stars. As a debut novel this shows promise, but it is not as good as some have said.
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The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan (Paperback - 6 May 2010)