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Blow on a Dead Man's Embers Paperback – 4 Aug 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (4 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184767531X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847675316
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 853,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A distinctive and potent treatment of the lingering sorrow of war...a quirky mixture of the earthy and the ethereal" (Times Literary Supplement)

"Strachan skilfully evokes the general sense of war-weariness ... A slow starter, but its fire finally takes hold and burns deep" (Literary Review)

"Extremely compelling...I loved this novel." (Catherine O'Flynn on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"A gorgeous debut" (Marie Claire on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"Strachan's deft handling of a dark subject is both sober and sparkling." (Guardian on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"A delight" (Financial Times on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"Strachan eschews whimsy for reality in a beautifully written story about growing up." (Independent on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"Deeply moving...An impresive and wonderfully absorbing debut, which evokes the atmosphere of a small Welsh town with wit and precision." (Waterstone's Books Quarterly on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"A compelling page-turner for all ages." (Herald on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"This mesmerising and magical story weaves fantasy with reality and compelling characterisation; it's both spellbinding and inspiring." (Easy Living on The Earth Hums in B Flat)

"Strachan's finest gift - one which she shares with the late Catherine Cookson, who also made colour out of the black and white of history - is a talent for telling stories with grace and compassion. Almost everyone, even the least of Strachan's walk-ons, pursues a storyline unique to themselves - yet they cross the arcs of others, creating flashpoints, repercussions. The book has momentum from first to last." (Tom Adair Scotland on Sunday)

"A distinctive and potent treatment of the lingering sorrow of war...a quirky mixture of the earthy and the ethereal." (The Times Literary Supplement)

"Strachan skilfully evokes the general sense of war-weariness ... A slow starter, but its fire finally takes hold and burns deep." (Literary Review)

"A historical family saga...with crisp narrative ability, a non-judgemental eye for the often irreconcilable complexities of love, and no small amount of mystery." (The List)

"The warmth of the storytelling overs compensation while, in the depiction of a nation seeking solace in radical politics and spiritualist séances, Strachan manages to bring something original to an old, old tale" (Financial Times)

"Timeless ... you could pick [Blow on a Dead Man's Embers] up and read without any sense at all of when it was written, only a very clear one of when it was set." (Curious Book Fans)

"its fire finally takes hold and burns deep" (Literary Review)

"crisp narrative ability, a non-judgemental eye... and no small amount of mystery to strengthen the blend" (The List)

Book Description

With her husband shattered by war, does one young woman have the strength to bring him back to life?

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 May 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I thoroughly enjoyed Mari Strachan's first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat, set in rural Wales in the 1950s with its unforgettable 12 and a bit narrator, Gwenni. Blow on a Dead Man's Embers is set in an earlier era, it is 1921 and Non (Rhiannon) knows she should be relieved to have her husband Davey safely returned from the Great War where so many perished. Davey might be physically present but Non worries about his emotional and mental state and she is determined to "fix" him and make him whole again even if it means subterfuge on her part.

This is such a beautifully written story peopled with vibrant, interesting characters. I felt like I really got to know Non and her step-children including the quiet, reticent Osian and the wilful, teenage Meg. I felt immersed in the intensity of the interminable heatwave assailing the small Welsh village and its inhabitants and the fact I was also brought up in a tiny, remote village made the characters resonate with me even more. Life is hard, the laundry is never-ending but there is little for it but to just get by the best one can. However it's not all doom and gloom and comic interludes are provided by Maggie Ellis, the village gossip (my village still has one like her!) and Non's dour mother-in-law, Catherine Davies.

As well as the stifling ambiance of village life we have the global issues of love and loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, autism, the struggle for Irish independence, medical advances, women's rights, the growth of the Labour party. Change is coming whether the villagers like it or not.

Mari Strachan has a knack of engaging the reader almost immediately, drawing you into this other world, immersing you in another era - highly recommended particularly if you enjoy excellent storytelling in a rural setting. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Mari comes up with next
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Format: Paperback
Blow on a Dead Man's Embers is ostensibly about a man who comes back home from the First World War, shellshocked and unable to find his place in life. But it's actually about more than that, much more. The story starts simply enough, but soon the lives of the protagonists - Davey the soldier, Non his wife and many more - begin to weave a powerful and compelling tale around straightforward and everyday life (often with plenty of humour) in the 1920s.

As soon as you think you've got the book sussed, the action leaps out of the claustrophobic confines of the village and into a world of mystic seers and a trip to London, where Non encounters more evidence of the grim realities of the great conflict, along with extraordinary news that affects her personally.

There are too many strands to the tales to cover them all - I'll leave that to the other reviews - but this is an terrific follow-up to mari Strachan's first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat. That was an excellent read but Blow on a Dead Man's Embers offers a far richer, deeper experience.
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Format: Paperback
Non is a housewife in Wales, 1921, where thousands of lives have been forever scarred by the war. Her husband, Davey, returns a different man and she is determined to discover what happened to him in the war to change him so. She is raising a child that is not hers and does not speak and begins to wonder if Osian is a product of her husband's secret life.

I was immediately drawn into the world of the Davies and didn't feel I had to make the effort to get to know the characters, they were there in full colour from the start. My heart was already breaking for Osian on page 19, yet it never becomes a depressing read. It shows her skill that Mari can make a story about post traumatic stress give you the warm and fuzzies. Her writing is warm and tender, full of charm and undoubtedly Welsh. Despite the difference in subject matter and narrative, you can hear the same voice behind this as The Earth Hums in B Flat.

The story is full of details of life after World War I, a period of much change, where women, once in charge of things and learning how to do a man's job, must return to household duties, if they were lucky enough that their husbands came home. Many conversations are made against the backdrop of painstaking housework yet there is the hope of modern appliances hinted at here and there. Mentions of the political situations in Wales and Ireland are no more than you would expect a family to discuss over the kitchen table and gives just the right amount of credence to this slice of life in the not so glamourous twenties.

We can now give a name to the conditions suffered by Davey, his father and Osian, but in the twenties families had to cope knowing only that there was something not right with their loved ones.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Blow on a Dead Man's Embers is set in a small community in Wales in the 1920s, just a few years after the end of World War I. The war has left many women grieving for a husband, a son or a brother and Non (Rhiannon) Davies is one of the lucky ones whose husband Davey has come home. But although Davey is physically unharmed he is still haunted by his experiences in the trenches. When Non finds him hiding under the kitchen table one morning she grows concerned for his mental health, but she knows that before she can help him she needs to find out exactly what happened to him during the war. Could a letter from a woman called Angela in London hold the answers?

As well as being a story about the aftermath of the Great War, this is also the story of Non and her relationships with the various members of her family. She has two teenage stepchildren to take care of, in addition to seven-year-old Osian who appears to be autistic (although this condition would not have been understood in the 1920s). Then there's Non's nephew, Gwydion, whose parents disapprove of his politics and his Irish girlfriend, and her mother-in-law, Catherine Davies, who makes no secret of her dislike for Non. Even the book's minor characters are well-drawn and believable, from the Davies' interfering neighbour, Maggie Ellis, to their tame crow, Herman.

One of the things I loved about this book was the way it looks at so many different aspects of World War I and what it was like in the years immediately afterwards. As well as Davey's shell shock (what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder) we also meet other former soldiers with various physical or mental problems caused by the war.
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