Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Blow on a Dead Man's Embers - Mari Strachan

Rhiannon Davies, known as Non, the main character in this novel, is a wonderful creation. A fascinating character I thought, a strong character, she seems almost ahead of her time. She copes with the two children of her husband’s first marriage, lovely Wil and more difficult Meg, plus another child, the mysterious Osian, who her husband brought into their home and asked Non to accept with no questions asked. On top of this her kind father in law is unwell, and most difficult of all, her husband Davey, recently returned from fighting in World War I, seems to be suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder; she finds him each morning in some sort of terrible waking dream, reenacting some wartime shooting incident and hiding under the kitchen table. He does not speak of this to her. Non is desperate to have the man back that she loved before, and feels that she must find out what exactly happened to change him. A letter from someone Davey claims to have fallen in love with provides a clue that Non follows. As well as these concerns she struggles with her own particular health issues and curious gift that have impacted on her life thus far, and also juggles the relationships with her sister Branwen, and her nephew Gwydion, and her difficult mother in law Catherine. Further, she has cause to question what she knew about her late father, as she learns more about him.

The author effectively adds to the heaviness that weighs on Non by incorporating the details of the weather at that time, hot and stifling, a heat that Non cannot escape until the end of the novel, when it finally cools down, in tune with the story. It is an interesting time period; just post World War I, with several in the locality mourning the sad loss of their men. We get a real sense of domestic life then, the heat of the range when cooking, the novelty of having a kettle, the procedures when doing the washing, all add to the authentic period setting of the novel. Additionally we learn a little about alternative medical practices, and the novel brings in some of what is happening around them in the world at the time, such as the rights of women, and the events in Ireland.

I think this is a beautifully written novel, thought provoking, intelligent and enjoyable to read. The characters are so well drawn and believable, and I felt like I got to know them. I would recommend it and I would read more by this author.


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