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This is a beautifully-written mystery told by a grieving woman caught in the throes of the inexplicable. I found it incredibly hard to read, because this grief is due to the death of a young child, her grandson.
Ruth is a 50-something year old teacher, who has recently been released into house arrest after an episode that culminated in a fire and a death. England has been in the grip of an unprecedented drought for three years when we join Ruth in her house arrest, and hear her back story in her own words. Her home, The Well, is the only place in England where it still rains.
‘Outside, around me The Well exhausts itself with growing, cells multiplying in the ivy grappling up the trees, the grass growing taller and taller until it can barely sustain the weight of each ambitions blade, flowers opening wider and wider until the petals can no longer hold on to the core and float to the ground.’
She and her husband Mark buy the Well to escape from the city – it was meant to be their rural retreat, where her husband, a lawyer, was able to do what he always wanted to do – become a farmer. Their reason for moving wholesale is that photos of naked children were found on Mark’s laptop – while he won the court case, his name and face are tainted in London, and he can no longer practise law. Around the time that they move to the Well, the country falls into drought, while it rains every night on their land – localised rain, which makes them no friends.
The worst thing people can possibly do during a drought is steal water, and it is no surprise that this what they are suspected of by the townspeople of the town in which they live. They eventually avoid going into the town for fear of being mobbed or attacked. However, their status is seen as miraculous by some, and their daughter Angie (Ruth’s daughter, but not Mark’s) moves in with some of her traveller friends, and her son, on one of the fields. Angie then lets in some ex-nuns called the ‘Followers of the Rose’.
Ruth becomes enamored with the ‘Way of the Rose’, and falls regularly into spiritual trances under the tutelage and guidance of Sister Amelia. Her spiritual change is deep, and she develops a Voice that tells her what to do (something she acknowledges has happened before at stressful times of her life). Their 5-year-old grandson, Lucien, had been travelling with Angie, but moves into Mark and Ruth’s home, just as Mark is getting tired of Ruth’s behaviour.
The part of the story told in the present is the story of Ruth trying to work everything out by herself, so she can heal herself. She needs to know whether it was she who killed her grandson. She has the help and friendship of one of her guards, whom she nicknames Boy, and an elderly priest, Hugh.
The descriptions of the Well, the wonder of nature, and the metaphors used in the book are magical. The tale could be shorter, but I don’t regret the time she spent crafting her perfect sentences, her wonderful scenes, and the masterful tension. I recommend this highly to anybody who enjoys beautiful writing, with a side order of extremist spiritualist ex-nuns, and a storyline about grief and love and what they do to our minds.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
by Catherine Chanter
Published by Text Publishing