What’s it all about?:
From the winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, a brilliantly haunting and suspenseful debut set in modern-day Britain where water is running out everywhere except at The Well; the farm of one seemingly ordinary family whose mysterious good fortune leads to suspicion, chaos, and ultimately a shocking act of violence.
Ruth Ardingly has just been released from prison to serve out a sentence of house arrest for arson and suspected murder at her farm, The Well. Beyond its borders, some people whisper she is a witch; others a messiah. For as soon as Ruth returns to The Well, rain begins to fall on the farm. And it has not rained anywhere else in the country in over three years.
Ruth and her husband Mark had moved years before from London to this ancient idyll in the hopes of starting their lives over. But then the drought began, and as the surrounding land dried up and died, and The Well grew lush and full of life, they came to see their fortune would come at a price. From the envy of their neighbors to the mandates of the government, from the fanaticism of a religious order called the Sisters of the Rose to the everyday difficulties of staying close as husband and wife, mother and child;all these forces led to a horrifying crime: the death of their seven-year-old grandson, drowned with cruel irony in one of the few ponds left in the countryside.
Now back at The Well, Ruth must piece together the tragedy that shattered her marriage, her family, and her dream. For she believes her grandson’s death was no accident, and that the murderer is among the people she trusted most. Alone except for her guards on a tiny green jewel in a world rapidly turning to dust, Ruth begins to confront her worst fears and learns what really happened in the dark heart of The Well.
A tour de force about ordinary people caught in the tide of an extraordinary situation, Catherine Chanter’s The Well is a haunting, beautifully written, and utterly believable novel that probes the fragility of our personal relationships and the mystical connection between people and the places they call home.
What did I think?:
I have such mixed feelings about this novel I’m hoping this review will be coherent and not a rambling mess! You’ll probably agree with me that the premise sounds fascinating and as a result, I was hopeful that it would be a good read. Unfortunately I had a few issues with it that has led to me giving it the star rating that I have. So, the story begins by introducing us to a woman called Ruth Ardingly who has returned to her home known as The Well on house arrest, guarded by three officers at all times, accused of murder. Then the story switches back to the past as Ruth recollects when she first came to the countryside property with her husband Mark, trying to escape the hustle bustle of the city life and some recent allegations about Mark (which were proved to be unfounded). Their marriage is on shaky grounds as it is and they are hoping that a new start on land where Mark can realise his dream of farming will allow their relationship to heal. Oh dear…you just know that this is not going to be the case, don’t you?
As Ruth and Mark are settling into their life at The Well, the rest of the country is experiencing the worst drought in history and life is difficult for the general population as they cope with water rations and inevitable drama that would ensue from this operation. Life gets a bit more difficult for Joe Public however when it is realised that there is one place in the country that seems to have an abundance of water and is the only place that receives precious rain. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s The Well. Just as Ruth and Mark are trying to re-build their marriage, they now have to deal with the jealousy, crazy people and haters who accuse Ruth of everything from water theft to plain and simple witchcraft. Ruth’s daughter Angie, an ex drug addict and her son Lucien come to stay on the property for a while in the company of some hippy-type travellers and even she is shocked by the drama that is unfolding in her mother’s life.
Following close on the travellers heels come another group of people which leads to the completely unanticipated and life-altering situation that Ruth now finds herself in the present time. They are of a new religious order, celebrating feminism and The Rose of Jericho and headed by the confident and very persuasive Sister Amelia. She manages to convince Ruth that she is something close to sainthood because of the seemingly magical flow of water to The Well and Ruth is soon thoroughly smitten with the idea, indulging in regular and cult-like devotions and neglecting her marriage and other responsibilities. Then Ruth’s grand-child, Lucien is tragically killed and Ruth immediately falls under suspicion when she cannot account for her whereabouts except for being in the throes of prayer. Fast-forward to the present time and Ruth has lost everything good in her life – her husband, her daughter, her grand-child, unless it can be discovered what really happened on that terrible evening.
Hmmm. So it wasn’t that I disliked this book. In fact, some parts of it I found incredibly poetic and moving and as I mentioned above, I was quite excited about it after reading the synopsis. Generally, I found it to be a bit of a slow burner, especially at the beginning although it did hit its stride after The Sisters Of Jericho entered the narrative. I also enjoyed how it bounced from the past to the present and loved reading about the relationship between Ruth and Boy (her favourite guard). My two main issues are the paranormal slant that the story is given which I didn’t really think went anywhere. At no time are we ever given an explanation of exactly why The Well is the only drought-less place in the country which was slightly frustrating but it’s not really explored in any great depth either and I would have liked a bit more insight into the situation across other homes and in the country as a whole which would have made the situation a bit more realistic in my eyes. Also, when the villain of the piece was unmasked, I was quite surprised as it seemed a little too easy for my liking. Unfortunately, I had already guessed it at the beginning of the novel but I immediately dismissed it as I thought the author would make it harder for me than that! If you can get past these two little niggles though it is a decent enough read and sports some beautiful passages that are so descriptive that I was able to picture the setting with ease. I would definitely be interested to see what this author does next.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):