Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Haweswater (Sarah Hall)
I only read two books that were set (or as in the case of the other partly set) in the Lake District whilst on holiday, apart from a reread of Captain Flint's Trunk, mainly because many of the books, particularly children's books that I came across, were very difficult to get hold of. I did manage to get hold of Haweswater by Sarah Hall - the author leapt out at me as she wrote the wonderful Orange-listed The electric Michelangelo, which was on the list one of the very first years that I started reading the Orange books. Haweswater was her first novel, and what a wonderful read it was.
Based on the true story of the construction of the Haweswater Dam in the 1930s, the book tells of the two villages, Measand and Marsdale Green, and their inhabitants which were affected by its creation. Or in the case of the villages, not just affected, but totally destroyed, for the building of the dam involved the evacuation of the villages, and their flooding, in order to build a reservoir that would meet the huge demand for water as industrialisation progressed in the North.
The book centres around the characters of Sam and Ella Lightburn and their grown up daughter Janet and younger son Isaac whose life is concentrated in the countryside that surrounds their home. Janet works in the school, Ella cleans the church. But there lives are irrevocably changed when Jack Liggett, sent by the Manchester City Waterworks, comes to make arrangements for the dam. Janet falls in love with the man who wants to destroy what she is desperate to preserve.
This was one of the most beautiful books that I have read for a while; the characters are wonderfully drawn and the story from start to finish is absolutely gripping. Hall does a fantastic job of demonstrating the emotional impact of the dam on those most affected by it. I wouldn't have heard about this novel had I not been looking for books set in the lakes, so if you come across it, please do read it.