This is a strange book, full of the mysteries both of modern everyday life and a sort of magic. Helen Slavin has constructed a world so nearly familiar, yet far away from easy explanations. This is not a straightforward narration, but a strangely flowing story with clues as to what may really be going on under the story of women at work and school. The cottage at its centre is both a place of refuge and a magnet for danger, and it is only as the novel develops that it becomes clear what may be going on. The supernatural in this book never takes over, but there is an undercurrent of questionable behaviour and some violence throughout. I am grateful for a copy of this book so that I could begin to appreciate this unusual writer’s work.
Three sisters, Anna, Charlie and Emz are living in a small town, each with their own lives in many ways. Anna is a chef, original and talented, working at various restaurants. Charlie works as a brewer of beers at an independent brewery. Emz is still at school, but also works at a wild animal sanctuary. Their mother, Vanessa, is a successful scientist firmly anchored in her job and minimalist home. The family has recently lost a grandmother, Vanessa’s mother, and the girls have jointly inherited her cottage and the surrounding ancient woodland. They are strangely attached to the cottage, and even holiday lets for short periods provoke strange emotions within them. Their new temporary tenant seems uncomfortable and ill at ease, and strange things are happening in the small town around them; new challenges and memories emerging. They begin to relive their grandmother’s teaching about the woods and lake, and also find their own abilities tested. Strange encounters and some violence reawaken old memories and bring about new threats.
The reader questions what has happened for most of this book, as the past seems to motivate and empower the present. Each woman in this book has her secrets, and awakening realisation that they may well have powers beyond easy comprehension. An appreciation for the secrets of their own skills and abilities grows as they are each presented with challenges of daily life and dramatic emotions. A sense of bereavement for at least one character shapes her world view, beyond the common feeling of sadness for a lost grandparent who presented a very alternative view of the world. This is a clever book as the reader is left to fill in the gaps of the narrative, learning about the individual characters of the people in a small town. It is not the easiest book to follow at times, as the author seeks to balance an understandable variation on a coming of age book with other themes of special powers and a deep appreciation of the natural world. There are many elements of this book to hold together while reading, as the characters come to a greater understanding of their unique nature and abilities within the framework of the present day. This is a challenging book for anyone wanting something unusual set in the present day, and presents an exciting beginning to a series of books featuring the Way sisters.
This is the first book in a series featuring the Way sisters, and I hope to post a review of “Slow Poison” within the next few days.
Meanwhile, I am still working on Vera B. I have started to make a booklist of my collection of V.B. books, of which I seem to have quite a number. I am still missing my original copy of “Testament of Youth”, so the hunt goes on, but I have acquired a new copy with the help of Heffers in Cambridge (a truly great bookshop). It seems that I will have to add V.B. to my list of books to look out for in second hand bookshops, though I do have a signed copy of “Honourable Estate” so I have a history of acquiring her books! I also found two more Angela Thirkell books last week while in a converted railway station in Wells next to the Sea: “Peace Breaks Out” and a copy of “Growing Up” in original dust jacket!