This is not the sort of book I usually read. But it is so beautifully written that I feel I simply must tell you about it.
Basically, the story starts at an inn on the River Thames. It’s the winter solstice, which is significant because the whole book revolves around the seasons and the ebb and flow of the river.
Anyway, this man brings a girl who appears to be dead (drowned) to the inn. However, a nurse named Rita (who pronounces her dead) realizes that she isn’t. Dead, that is. In fact, she is alive. Or has come back from the dead.
So without getting into all the ins and outs, the story then goes into identifying exactly who the child is. And there’s a lot of speculation about that. Because one of the big pastimes among the inn’s patrons is storytelling.
And there’s a mystery at the heart of the story. Because another girl (or is it the same girl?) was kidnapped and believed to be dead. A separate incident, that is.
And so the tale meanders around-like the river — get it? And all the storytellers keep coming up with explanations for things — which may or may not be true. The explanations, that is.
The book is written in absolutely gorgeous prose. And combines a lot of mystical stuff with familial relations stuff, plus societal expectations stuff. Plus the seasons and the river.
The only thing I found a bit much was at the beginning when four chapters in a row ended with the words “something is going to happen” (three times in italics). Yes, yes — foreshadowing. We get it.
But I would still give this five (5) stars for its sheer awesomeness.
This story takes place at a Swaziland religious boarding school where the protagonist Adele Joubert was once one of the popular good girls, but (as the story opens) she’s now forced to share a room with the less fortunate Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t always follow the rules.
The book manages to convey the complexity of teen female friendships, as well as the prejudices suffered by white vs. black vs. mixed race peoples in this part of Africa. A set of prejudices that can be found other places.
On top of which, there’s the peer pressure Adele feels as a mixed race child whose mother is involved with a married, white man. That’s why Adele is able to afford nice things. Plus her mother, who’s chosen to ally herself to an unavailable man, wishes the best kind of future for Adele. So she encourages her to follow the rules, smile, and play nice (no matter what). Which puts more than just peer pressure on our protagonist.
However, despite the odds, Adele and Lottie end up bonding. This bond takes root (ironically or not) while the two girls jointly read Jane Eyre. So, along with the multitude of themes this book touches on, it also conveys the point that literature brings us together.
And I’m just scratching the surface here. 🙂
This Edgar-nominated story is absolutely fantastic. I highly recommend it.
And my thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!
Originally published at http://randomandsundrythings.wordpress.com on June 8, 2019.