Book Review: Every Seventh Wave

every seventh wave

“To live on the edge of things, he thought. To meeting of two worlds, a liminal frontier, from known to unknown”

Every Seventh Wave, by Tom Vowler, tells the story of Hallam, a middle-aged man recently released from prison. He is living in the crumbling remains of his old family home on a sea-facing cliff in the far south-west of England. The tale opens with him watching a woman enter the water at dusk and disappear below the surface. He rushes to her aid, thereby setting off a series of events that will change the trajectory of his reclusive existence.

The woman, Anca, is a teenager from Romania. She claims to have no family or friends for Hallam to contact and appears in no hurry to leave the shelter he reluctantly offers her. Hallam’s life has been shadowed by loss, everyone he ever cared for leaving him. As the days pass he finds it hard not to daydream of a future that includes Anca as his willing companion.

Hallam’s backstory is revealed slowly, in snippets and then detail. His family moved to the house on the cliff when he was an adolescent, running it as a guest house. Hallam and his older brother, Blue, struggled to fit in with the local teenagers. Blue was always seeking adventure, unafraid to take risks and encouraging Hallam to follow him. Their parents’ marriage was not a happy one and the boys sought escape from the atmosphere this generated.

Another thread in the story is the horror of human trafficking. The reader will learn of the trade in people and how victims are coerced and kept compliant. The gangs running such operations understand how to remain beyond the powers of law enforcement. Amongst themselves disputes are resolved with pitiless violence.

The starkness and venerable power of the setting are evoked with skill and depth. Complexities of character are recognised, with the reader trusted to see beyond what is narrated. The writing is spare yet lyrical despite the harrowing subjects dealt with. The tension built into the denouement had me gasping for air.

It was this that made me appreciate more deeply the scenes where Anca faces the prospect of drowning. Each of the characters is, in a way, caught in the riptide of the life they have ended up with. The author is uncompromising in his portrayal of the consequences of choices made; the waves keep coming whatever breakers are built.

A disturbing yet satisfying tale that both appals with its harsh truths and engages the reader. An impressive and affecting story that I recommend.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

Book Review: Flesh of the Peach

“If I owned a horse, I feel like I would ride it until it dropped from exhaustian under me,’ Maud said […] ‘I wouldn’t stop until it had given me everything and taken me far further than it could.”

Flesh of the Peach, by Helen McClory, is a story of grief, selfishness, and the lasting damage caused by damaged people. The protagonist is Sarah Browne, a twenty-seven year old aspiring artist who, when the story opens, has been rejected by her married lover on the day she discovers her estranged mother has finally died. Raised in a chaotic household of women, where attention was rare and often caustic, she escaped to London as a teenager and then on to New York, a city she now chooses to leave.

Sarah decides to use her newly acquired inheritance to start again, to move to a cabin in New Mexico where she hopes to find the space to consider what she can now be. She takes with her just a few possessions, including a new yellow sundress, but also decades of emotional baggage that she has worked to suppress.

“She placed the newly purchased dress so that it lay across the bed in a pool like sunshine. […] She was going to dress from now on for a beautiful life. Keep saying those words to yourself. It sounds naive but that is one way to choose to exist. As a polished stone skipped across the harshness of things.”

Sarah’s wish is that she be the best possible version of herself, which is the most that any can aspire to be.

There follows a roadtrip in a Greyhound bus, a stay in a soulless motel, and then a drive to her late mother’s cabin retreat in the Southern Rockies. Here she meets a neighbour, Theo, and they embark on an ill-fated affair.

There are flashbacks to Sarah’s childhood in Cornwall. The isolation of the cabin unsettles her equilibrium. Theo falls in love with this young woman whose pressure cooked emotions demand release.

Despite the foreboding atmosphere the writing remains lyrical, the imagery painting both sensation and location. Sarah is delicate and fierce, owning her needs without apology, a female willing to reject societal expectation.

The final quarter of the book lost some of the coherancy which had held together preceding chapters. Nevertheless, the quality of the prose ensured engagement was retained. The denouement was unexpected yet once read could be regarded as inevitable. Disquieting but pure pleasure to read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Freight Books.

Book Review: A Year of Marvellous Ways

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A Year of Marvellous Ways, by Sarah Winman, is a book to be savoured. The use of language is exquisite, the imagery surreal. The reader is transported to the quiet creek in which much of the story is set and can experience the magic of the place. This is a tale of people broken by grief who find healing in time, tide, and friendship.

The protagonist is eighty-nine year old Marvellous Ways who lives alone in a gypsy caravan on the shores of a remote tidal inlet in Cornwall. She has lived there for much of her life. Although age is affecting her body and her memory she feels that she has one more thing to do before her life ends, she just isn’t sure what it might be.

Francis Drake is a young soldier, scarred by the Second World War. He returns to England to fulfil a promise he made to a dying man. Before setting out on this quest he visits London and the scenes of his childhood. Here he encounters a love he had thought lost, then loses her again in circumstances that stretch him beyond what he can bear.

Marvellous finds Drake and nurses him back to health. In the process they share their stories and we learn of lives lived, loves lost and the damage inflicted by loneliness. There is happiness and regret, success and stoicism, grief and acceptance.

I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Marvellous. We get to know her as an eccentric old lady but she has lived a long life and is more than the worn body the world now sees. She is both ordinary and extraordinary as so many people are. Strangers mock her dress and habits; Drake looked further and saw the love she had always longed to share.

The denouement mixed sadness with hope, the endings and beginnings that make up a life. This is a beautiful, satisfying read with plenty to ponder after the last page is turned.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Deep Water

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Deep Water, by Lu Hersey, is a children’s novel (age 12+) set in Cornwall, England. Taking myth, folklore, witchcraft and ancient beliefs as inspiration, it weaves a contemporary tale about a group of teenagers caught up in a legacy of family secrets. Puberty is a time of change. What if that change also involved the mastering of mysterious abilities?

The protagonist, fifteen year old Danni, comes home from school one day to a cold and empty house. When her mother fails to return from work, and has still not appeared by morning, Danni knows that something is wrong. Such a disappearance with no explanation is out of character. Her mother fusses about the smallest of things and would not leave her only child alone for so long without contact.

Danni moves in with her father and starts to uncover clues as to what may have happened. She learns that the town in which she is now living is close to where her mother grew up. Realising that she knows little of her mother’s past she determines to find out more.

Danni encounters people who remember her mother and some of them react to her with hostility. She befriends her father’s assistant, an older teenager named Eliot, and discovers that he too comes from a family with mythical powers. As the town’s history is revealed Danni begins to understand why her mother left. She embraces her newfound knowledge but finds herself in danger. The inexplicable is regarded as a threat by those who seek power and control.

The writing is assured and original. The disconnect between adults and teenagers is well represented as are the relationships between the children. Although the story requires an acceptance of possibilities, it is interesting to reflect on those things in life which are given credence and those which are dismissed. The Christian church may be powerful and have written much of this island’s history, but there have always been other beliefs.

An enjoyable read and one which I would recommend to young teenagers. The what ifs may inspire some pondering.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Usborne.