Book Review: The Earth Cries Out, by Bonnie Etherington

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_earth_cries_out.jpgI’m getting harder to please in my old age but The Earth Cries Out has done it. It’s a surprising and quite wonderful novel.

Eight-year-old Ruth moves from Nelson to West Guinea with her parents after her younger sister’s tragic death. Her parents had been drifting apart even before all this happened, and the way we see their pain through Ruth’s eyes is so well done: they’re closed off and hurting, and now even more isolated, literally.

Ruth, though, carries on her childhood. This is the aspect of the book I loved the most: despite the obvious difference between 1990s Nelson, NZ and jungle-surrounded, mountain-top West Guinea, Ruth keeps being eight. Things are as odd and normal as ever: she gets on with learning a new language so she can get on with play and understanding; she sees a dead newborn baby, and comes face-to-face with disease; she invents her own superstitions, and listens to or discards the superstitions of the village.

Life thrums around Ruth – the incredible flora (wonderfully described), the people, the mosquitos – but there’s a stillness to her. She describes scenes so immaculately that, often, it’s almost as if the story isn’t moving forward. It’s compelling, but not because of its action, necessarily; it’s compelling because of how spot-on the author captures childhood’s tiny cruelties and guilts that we never let go of. It’s rounded out by grief and growing up, and a background of politics and history.

This is an impressive, moving, often unflinching debut.

Reviewed by Jane Arthur

The Earth Cries Out
by Bonnie Etherington
Vintage/Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143770657

 

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Book Review: Black Rabbit Hall, by Eve Chase

Available in bookstores nationwide. cv_black_rabbit_hall

This author’s debut novel is a delight to read. Crossing three decades, she reveals the families and stories behind a run-down Cornwall mansion.

Lorna, a modern woman seeking a wedding venue, visits Pencraw Hall at which she feels an increasing sense of the familiar.

When she visits again, the Cornwall weather cuts her off from London and home, and during her stay she learns more and more about the house and inevitably about herself.

Chase takes us back three decades, to the family to whom Pencraw Hall is known by the titular name – black silhouettes of rabbits at sun down. Already in a state of neglect, the family are none the less happy.

The happiness of their holiday home is felled by a disastrous death, an unwelcome second-place holder, and another tragedy. Events then and there lead to a direct connection to Lorna, of which she had no real knowledge.

One of the delights in this tale is the author’s exciting use of new phrases to describe faces, clothing, weather, emotions. Beautifully written, it held me in thrall for the day – a satisfying day with its satisfying conclusion. I hope to soon read more from Eve Chase.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Black Rabbit Hall
by Eve Chase
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd.
ISBN: 9780718181642