Thursday, 22 April 2010
The earth hums in B flat (Strachan)
The attention grabbing title, The earth hums in B flat, has been on my radar for some time, but I have somehow never got around to picking it up from the library. I was very excited therefore when Andrea from Canongate, who occasionally sends me a selection of books that she hopes will interest me, included this in my latest batch of books. Having waited so long to read it, it didn't languish on my TBR pile for very long.
This utterly enchanting debut novel is about Gwenni, a young girl living in a small village in Wales in the 1950s. It's fairy taleish and utterly compelling.
The novel starts:
"I fly in my sleep every night. When I was little I could fly without being asleep; now I can't, even though I practise and practise. And after what I saw last night I want more than ever to fly wide awake. Mam always says: I want never gets. Is that true?...it was hard to fall asleep. But when I did I left Bethan to spread herself across the whole bed and I soared into a sky that wrapped me in air as light and warm as an eiderdown. I listened to the town below breathe its shallow night-time breaths, in and out, in and out, and all around me the Earth sang".
The novel is essentially about Gwenni, describing life in 1950s Wales, the Sale of Work Meetings and their accompanying teas, egg sandwiches on the charabanc outing, going to church and the social control, gossip and community values that characterised it. And in particular the secrets that lay behind family's front doors. But there is also an intriguing story - when the father of the two girls that she babysits for goes missing, she decides to investigate, and gets caught up in unravelling the secrets around his death, unveiling a host of other secrets in the process, that she wishes she had not discovered.
The writing is extremely lyrical and I thought that Gwenni had an extremely strong voice.
"I peer through the front window into the parlour. The panes are clear and cold as ice under my palm. But it's dark inside and difficult to see anything. And what would there be to see? No shelves sagging with books, no fire flickering in the inglenook, no desk balancing towers of exercise books on its polished surface....before my head can decide anything, my feet begin to run, faster than they've ever run before, across the field, over the stile, through the gate, past Penrhiw, past the Reservoir hiding behind the wall, along the high street and they don't stop until I'm standing on my own front doorstep, still holding the bunch of Cornflowers. I sink down to sit on the cold slate of the step and dig my knees into my stomach to stop it hurting so much"
Definitely looking forward to seeing what Strachan produces in follow up to this!