It’s a real pleasure to share my review of Riverflow by Alison Layland, published today (20th June) by Honno Welsh Women’s Press, available in paperback and for kindle. I had the immense privilege of being a (very) early reader of this lovely book, and it was a delight to find my endorsement on the publisher’s book page:
“A compelling story, contemporary and relevant with its strong environmental messages, combining mystery and long-hidden family secrets with elements of a psychological thriller – I thoroughly enjoyed this one.”
Many thanks, Honno – and to the author for my advance reading copy.
If you have a long memory, you might remember my review of Alison’s excellent first novel, Someone Else’s Conflict, back in 2015 : you’ll find it again here, together with an interview with the author. That book was a lovely surprise – not the relatively straightforward tale of two damaged people I expected, but an unusual and gripping thriller exposing the waste and futility of fighting for a cause. And this book rather surprised me too – a very different read, and one I enjoyed very much…
Deep water. Dark secrets. Dangerous neighbours.
After a beloved family member is drowned in a devastating flood, Bede and Elin Sherwell want nothing more than to be left in peace to pursue their off-grid life. But when the very real prospect of fracking hits their village, they are drawn in to the frontline protests. During a spring of relentless rain, a series of mysterious threats and suspicious accidents put friendships on the line and the Sherwells’ marriage under unbearable tension. Is there a connection with their uncle’s death? As the river rises under torrential rain, pressure mounts, Bede’s sense of self begins to crumble and Elin is no longer sure who to believe or what to believe in.
When I read and reviewed the author’s first book, I remember saying that it really shouldn’t have worked when it drew together so many diverse elements. I had the same initial thought about this one – but Alison Layland is such an accomplished story-teller, and knits everything together so very, very well.
So which “box” does it fit within most comfortably? Probably primarily a psychological thriller, with a steadily building of suspense and tension – but don’t search for the ubiquitous jaw-dropping twist, as this book is more about the slow build up, relatively gentle in pace, sometimes detouring a little, before cranking things up towards the dramatic and unexpected climax.
Those detours develop the environmental context and themes, the fracking threat, corporate and personal greed, never laboured but providing that rather different contemporary relevance and edge: they also explore and expose the relationship and family issues that are so central to the story. We first meet Bede and Elin as they grieve for a recent death, and a discovered diary gives the reader more insight into the family-based complexities that both underpin and thread through the book.
I really must mention the vividly drawn rural setting, on the banks of the Severn, and the strong watery imagery that flows throughout. And the whole cast of characters is superb drawn. I was a particular fan of long-suffering Elin, while my feelings towards Bede did wax and wane a little – but as their marriage suffers through the turmoil they’re absolutely fascinating to watch, and their actions provoke the strongest of feelings. The construction of the book is clever too, particularly in the way the diary’s revelations and the secrets of the past punctuate the narrative.
This book is something very different, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it – a compelling read, original themes, and the finest of writing.
Do look out for the forthcoming blog tour, organised by Emma at Damppebbles Blog Tours – it starts on Monday 22nd July, and runs until Saturday 10th August, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the reviews.
About the author
Alison Layland is a writer and translator who has told herself stories for as long as she can remember. She first started writing them down for others to share when she moved to Wales in 1997 and a Welsh language course led the way to creative writing classes. She won the short story competition at the National Eisteddfod in 2002.
She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, and after a brief spell as a taxi driver worked for several years as a chartered surveyor before returning to her first love – language. She translates from German, French and Welsh into English, and her published translations include a number of award-winning and best-selling novels. She also writes fiction, published by Honno Press.
Someone Else’s Conflict, her debut novel, was featured as a Debut of the Month on the Lovereading site in January 2015. Her second novel, Riverflow, an eco-themed psychological thriller, is published today.