Source by Rosemary Johnston – a saga of place, memories and words

Source – A Saga by Rosemary Johnston

Occasionally I am offered a book to review by an author, and this one is a little gem. It is a short book, but the language is so poetic and well used that it conveys so much. Set in a tiny Irish coastal community, it is a contemporary story of clearing a house and farm that is undramatic, but in its gentle storytelling it manages to reveal so much. Kate is a woman who has achieved a great deal in her life since she has left her mother’s house, but is still brought up short by the small memories that one or two books represent. So many items that her mother owned have no effect, but some glimpses of her childhood return in disturbing ways. Her teenage daughter, Lavinia, is unimpressed by this run down house so far from where she knows, without wi-fi and apparently so much more. 

This is a gentle story that seems to effortlessly convey so much of a place, a time, relationships in a small space. The setting of a community dominated by its coastal setting and a church which holds many memories, is beautifully established. It deals in elegant  prose with tragedy and insecurity, with long held expectations and emotions that can never be cancelled out once awoken. Life in small objects, words of prose and specific origins awakens so much for Kate and eventually others that this is a deceptively powerful little book that I was so pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review. 

It is following her mother’s funeral that Kate feels obliged to go and clear the house. She knows that she ought to sell it – it would need renovation but equally she knows that it is more likely to be demolished in favour of a new build, with a small garden that would be out of keeping with the wild setting. It is damp, with old and tired fixtures and fittings which Lavinia is distinctly unimpressed by – even Kate tells her “It’ll do you good to experience a bit of hardship”. Elsewhere Kate refers to her daughter as “pampered” , as she contrasts her own sparse upbringing with Lavania’s comfortable life. It soon emerges when they come across two books that Granny didn’t read, while Kate’s father was keen on words. He is represented by a book of poetry which Kate had discovered and delighted in, as well as a dictionary. It emerges that Kate is also fascinated by words, by their origins in historic terms, and their power in her life. She teaches English as a second language, so has a great appreciation of the power of language. It also seems that while her mother wanted only her family and fire at home, not going off for adventure and to see the world. Thus it seems there was a basic split between Kate’s parents, one wanting novelty, another firmly anchored to the land. There is at least one other person with secrets, and Kate recalls the pain of others.

Altogether this is a powerful and beautifully written story of memories, words and life. I recommend it as a lovely read from the pen of a very talented writer.