It’s a real pleasure today to join the blog tour for In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton, published by Louise Walters Books on 23rd November, and to share my review. It’s available in paperback and as an e-book via Amazon in the UK and US, Foyles, the Book Depository, by ordering from your favourite local bookshop, and also for Kobo. But I always think it’s rather good to cut out the middleman, don’t you? You can also buy it direct from Louise Walters Books, as an e-book (mobi file, epub or PDF) and paperback (with free postage included). My thanks to Emma at #damppebblesblogtours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
I look forward to every book from this exceptional small publisher, but I’ve just realised this isn’t the first time I’ve featured Cath here on Being Anne – she wrote a lovely guest post (you can read it again here) on the publication of Nothing Is As it Was, the collection of short stories on climate change published by Retreat West in April 2018. I never did have the opportunity to catch up with that collection – so I’m rather delighted to try the author’s writing at long last.
This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.
Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…
After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?
“A tender and moving study of a marriage” Alison Moore, author of the Booker short listed The Lighthouse
Just 93 pages long – but if there was ever a read that deserved the definition of “small and perfectly formed”, this is it. And not only does it take your breath away by how much the author crams into such a small package – and it’s an entirely flowing and coherent whole – but its internal construction is extremely cleverly done too, a series of shorter stories, slices of life, linked by the characters, location, key motifs and developing themes. It’s quite beautiful – and I’ve honestly never read anything quite like it before.
Essentially, the book follows the lives of Ted and Rene from their marriage in the 1950s through to the present day, each glimpse providing insights into the attitudes and conventions of their times – a portrait of an unexceptional marriage where hopes and dreams become lost among the day-to-day ordinariness, and where love isn’t something expressed but still deeply felt. It examines society’s changing expectations by following too their daughters and granddaughter – along with some very different lives in Italy, through the family who have a vase made by Ted in pride of place in their home.
Every word is carefully chosen, and the emotion the author brings to the narrative is exceptional – there were key points when it made me quite tearful, but there are also many scenes that made me smile. As a child of the 50s, there was much about the relationship between Ted and Rene that reminded me forcibly of my own parents’ lives and relationship, acutely observed and authentically portrayed. I loved the small cast of well-developed characters and the way their lives and stories were intertwined, and I equally loved the recurring motifs and the way they were used – that Italian vase (and others made by Ted at the family’s ceramics factory), the red boucle coat with the fur collar, emotion in their every painted flower and stitched thread.
The book’s sense of place is quite wonderful too – the Eric Morecambe statue on the seafront anchoring the story, a focus for some of those wonderful “moments”, a symbol of joy and loss, along with the views of the Tower shimmering in the distance across Morecambe Bay.
A novella can sometimes leave me dissatisfied – usually wanting it to have been longer, for the story and themes to have been further and more fully developed – but the form here is a perfect match for the story it tells. This is a stunning piece of work by an exceptionally talented author – and I’ll really look forward to reading more from Cath Barton.
About the author
Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella.