All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew
Despite the bleakness of her current situation, and the less than idyllic conditions of her youth, Ia finds pleasure in small things. Weather and nature are her close companions, with moods and motivations of their own. An inveterate collector, she lives with a treasure trove on her doorstep, as there’s always something new washed up by the waves. Not long after she finds a crate of oranges, there’s something even more startling: a girl of around seven or eight who can’t remember how she got there, or even her own name. In her rough and ready way, Ia takes care of her, hiding her from Bran, as she must also hide Jenna, a black soldier, kinder and gentler than she is used to, who solicits her help when his mother is driven from her home. Before too long, Ia and the child are leaving too, journeying through a flooded landscape commandeered by gangs with guns, in search of a better life.
I quickly found myself rooting for Ia, although I’m not convinced the author’s decision to omit certain commas and conjunctions was the best way of representing her voice. (Although I did get used to it, for a long time I found it a distraction, being unable to stop myself from trying to find grammatical patterns. But otherwise, the voice is lovely.) Overall, All Rivers Run Free is an absorbing story set in a near-future anarchic Britain about rural poverty, marginalisation and the opportunity for tenderness to coexist with toughness. Given that Cornwall is one of the most deprived areas of the UK, it’s refreshing to find a novel depicting the side that the tourists don’t, or don’t want to, see. Previously published as a poet and YA writer, Cornishwoman Natasha Carthew’s first novel for adults is published by Riverrun who provided my advance proof copy.
Rainsongs by Sue Hubbard
Regardless of her own desires, the locals won’t let Martha wallow in the past. As the New Year dawns, it’s 2008 and Ireland is shrugging off its reputation as Europe’s poor relation, and local landowner and property developer Eugene has plans for a luxury spa with a view. But first he needs to persuade Martha to give up a portion of her land and her neighbour Paddy to sell the farm where he grew up. Between those poles of tradition and rampant capitalism is Colm, a musician, poet and farmer about the age Martha’s son would have been, to whom she’s irresistibly drawn.
Despite the obvious tension, this is a quiet, reflective novel about grief, not only for lost loved-ones, but for the loss of wild spaces in our ever changing world. As the counsellor Martha saw after her son’s untimely death told her (p154), there can be both sorrow and relief in knowing that so much of what happens to us is beyond our control. But, as Martha discovers, she does possess the power to help preserve the way of life in that small portion of the country that she’s come to love. Rainsongs is published by independent press Duckworth Overlook provided my review copy; my first from them but hopefully not my last.