By Jenn Ashworth
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming
Jenn Ashworth's latest novel, Fell, captures the oddities within ordinary families, the ways people will believe anything even if it's supernatural in times of crisis and the way the past tries to bleed into the present. Lines are blurred between reality and the misty, mirky world of the supernatural. Hold on to your butts as this is a fantastic book.
I've been a fan of Jenn's since reading her short stories online and really enjoyed The Friday Gospels but Fell is even better so much so that it was one of my favourite reads of 2016.
Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home, abandoned by her father years ago when her mother died, overlooking Morecambe Bay. Her father has died, leaving behind the crumbling house which needs fixing up and restore to its former glory. Like her parents, when they first moved in, she is short of funds to restore the house yet she can't let out rooms like her parents did as the house is full of mould, plant life and nothing seems to work - the house is a museum of her parents past - wallpaper peeling off showing the layers underneath. The roots of two overgrown sycamores have spread underneath, causing damage to the foundations and pipes. Her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, Netty and Jack, both reunited in death, and who are desperate to make a amends.
Told from the perspective of a husband and wife who are no longer living this is a story about lingering memories and unnatural presences in ordinary life. The story goes back to the summer of 1963 on the cusp of change for the whole family. Netty has cancer and following many operations and doctor appointments she is now living on borrowed time but she spends most of her time repressing her illness, pretending she is fine in front of her young daughter, Annette. Jack invites a charismatic lodger into their house who claims to heal people in the hope that this stranger can save Netty. Trying to keep the illness is becoming a burden. Annette is left to entertain herself as her mother is kept in her bedroom, knitting projects discarded near her chair, while in pain.
Now, in the present, a stranger must save Annette when she cuts herself when trying to slash down the sycamores. The local tree surgeon is pulled into Annette's world and the magnetic pull of the house. Echoes of the past bleed into the present with events repeating themselves but instead of the isolation felt by Jack and Netty collectively is now on Annette's shoulders - she must work out how to fix the house - alone. The supernatural blurs with the ordinary, many things left unexplained and for the reader to piece together - can this lodger actually heal people, how did he manage to get Netty to choke up sea water?
Fell is an eerie, atmospheric book, beautifully written by capturing the ordinary lives with small details and pulling the reader into the lives of these characters. This is a compelling book, and I'm still thinking about the story weeks after finishing the book. You can buy Fell from your favourite bookshop.
I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.