Saturday 1 October 2011

Read in 2011 - 22: Blackthorn Winter

The subtitle reads "A village, a secret, a woman hiding from her past", and naturally, the past the woman is trying to hide from eventually catches up with her. That is the story in this book by Sarah Challis in a nutshell.
There are, of course, more things happening, some rather dramatic, especially in the last quarter of the book, which make for an unexpected bit of suspense, but (almost) everything turns out well in the end.

What I like about the book is that it follows the main character for an entire year, which in a typical English village is marked by the changeing of the seasons visibly in the countryside, in farmer's endless activities and in village life itself with its events and festivities.

The writing is good without being truly remarkable, and I have found only a few errors; for instance, there is a character named Julia who on one page suddenly is "Julie", and there are a few "thans" that should correctly be "thens". Some editing should have been done on sentences like this one on page 8:
The pile of circulars and junk mail had been neatly stacked in a pile inside the front door...
Now, had I written anything like that in an essay at school, my teacher would have underlined the two "piles" and remarked "repetition!". Why not put "The heap of circulars and junk mail had been neatly stacked in a pile"?
Here are some bits I particularly liked and want to share with you because I do agree with them:
With a genuine pang of guilt Julia realised that she had never asked Lila how he [meaning her brother] was, or indeed telephoned Claudia to say how sorry she was. Glancing at her watch she decided she would do so when her guests had gone. Really, she could be an altogether nicer person if there were more hours in the day.
Don't you sometimes find yourself in a similar situation? So many people to talk to, personally or on the phone, write to and keep in touch with - you really want to, but another day or week or month goes by and you still have not sent that card or made that phone call.

This bit about village life strikes me as well-observed:
"Once the press have gone away, everything can get back to normal... half the people in this village won't ever know. Things are different these days. People move in and out and no one even gets to know their names. Both adults out at work, just coming and going, morning and evening, shopping at the supermarkets in towns, not drinking in the pub, not churchgoers. Think round the village. There are as many people like that as there are of the old sort."
The main character has two grown-up children, Jerome and Lila. Lila lives in New York and Jerome has spent a long time in India, so the siblings do not see each other often. One evening they talk on the phone, and the call ends on what I found a rather unrealistic note:
"Just a minute, Jerome. There's something I want to tell you".
"Lila, it'll have to wait. I must go and find Finn [a dog]. Speak to you soon. Bye."
Now, if you were on the phone to anyone, and they said "there's something I want to tell you", you wouldn't just ring off, would you? Maybe you would let the other person know that you didn't have much time for some reason or other, and they would make it short, but you wouldn't just hang up on them, would you? And even less so if the person on the other end was your sister who you had not seen in a long time. Ah well, nobody is perfect, so I should not expect it from an author :-)
Altogether, the book made a pleasant, relaxing read, even with a lot of the events being neither pleasant nor relaxing. It was just right for the evenings to unwind after a mentally challenging day at work.

Next, I would like to read some non-fiction, but I have a Peter Robinson from the library which needs going back, so I'll read that one first.


  1. I love the cover, Librarian. As for the repetition, I don't think the first 'pile' is ncessary at all. Your second exerpt reminded me of my mother, who always used to say "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions". So true. And I totally agree about the telephone conversation!

  2. Yes, really pretty pottery on the cover. I'm one of those people that like to read a few things at once. Late at night, when I'm settled in to read it might be the thriller, or the biography of an artist are a calmer story of village life. There is such of wealth of wonderful reads. Have you ever written reviews for Amazon? I do read them and appreciate the insightful critiques like the one you did on this book.

  3. Frances, indeed, the first "pile" is unnecessary. And I liked the cover, too - it reminded me of the beautiful glimpses of their homes some of my blogging friends allow their readers to get.

    Sonia, it does, doesn't it!

    Julie, my mum regularly writes reviews for Amazon; I have never done it myself. There used to be a time when Amazon would send her parcels of 10 or 12 books and ask her to review them.

  4. I am hoping that this comment will get to you. Just a thought about the phone conversation...brothers don't REALLY listen to their sisters, so that wouldn't have fazed me at all in the book. Now, if it had been two sisters talking, that would be a different story...

  5. Sounds my sort of book.

    You said "So many people to talk to, personally or on the phone, write to and keep in touch with - you really want to, but another day or week or month goes by and you still have not sent that card or made that phone call." Whilst most of my communication is by e-mail and other eletronic means - like commenting - I do so agree. That's why I'm up at five in the morning reading blog postings from days ago....

  6. Kay, since I do not have a brother but I know my sister and I would never react like that on the phone, I take your word for it - maybe Sarah Challis has a brother, too, and has made the same experience as you!

    Scriptor, usually I am quite good at keeping touch with people, and especially the sending cards stuff has gotten a lot better since I have started working from home and can go to the post office during the day. And I must admit that on very rare occasions I have let slip a contact from my focus deliberately, but usually, I am a good and loyal friend.

  7. You should be an editor! Sounds like a good book, thanks for the recommend. I am always looking for a good read.


  8. Excellent, excellent posting on a book I quite enjoyed. I wrote about it back before we met, I think:

    I have read many blog entries that are written better than books. Really.

  9. You are welcome, Elizabeth, and thank you for the compliment!

    Nan, of course I went and read your review straight away. And you are right, one of the really good points of the book is that it features characters of all ages and they are portrayed all in a credible, realistic way. Thank you very much for your compliment, too!