Sandlands by Rosy Thornton was our chosen book for this week. A mixed bunch of stories set in Suffolk – all well-written and interesting for their plot variety.
The collection starts off well with The White Doe – a strange tale of the narrator’s mother’s funeral and her own bereavement and the point of release when she can really succumb to her grief. Is this an example of British Magical Realism? High House too was an interesting story of how a retired flood risk engineer gently educates his elderly cleaning lady about the encroachment of the sea and the coming of climate change. We were in two minds as to whether the characters’ verbal mannerisms worked, but felt on balance that they did.
There’s a recurring theme of single women abandoned by the father of their child once pregnant. In The Level Crossing, Rosy Thornton neatly captures the cowardice of the errant father
“Matt won’t be coming back. I saw his eyes, that night when I told him – the eyes of the quarry, the wounded fox, already seeing other walls, another bed. ‘I need time,’ he said as he climbed on his motorbike, but the weeks have stretched to months have shown that it wasn’t time he needed after all. I gave him time – or, rather, I gave him space, and he clutched it between us like the buffering fog.”
Two of the longer stories are two of the best. The author is very good at developing a theme and then presenting it in a nutshell with some nice, succinct writing. Nightingale’s Return is a dual narrative of a son visiting a Suffolk farm where his father had been a prisoner of war. Some lovely observations of the natural world in both England and Italy and a very insightful reminiscence of changes in relationship when offspring become their parent’s carer (P 82). Whispers is about an academic with writer’s block and has some very pertinent reflections on academic life. “The library had a quality like no other place, a paradoxical power to make the reader feel himself subsumed into the greater body of collective intellectual endeavour and at the same time secluded, cut off from the world.” (P120)
On the downside we are sometimes given a huge amount of detail particularly on the natural world – for example in Curlew Call there is a discussion on the difference between curlew and avocet beaks. This level of minutiae can interrupt the narrative flow. That said, the solace of the natural world in times of grief is very evident – rather similar as in Helen MacDonald’s H for Hawk, though of course in this case we are reading fiction.
So overall, well worth a read for a clear sense of place and some crisp observations.