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Bench

The Earth Hums in B Flat

I'm fairly certain that the first (and maybe only) place I read about The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan was on another book blog. I got as far as 'Gwenni flies in her sleep' in the review, checked the book out on Amazon, and ordered it. Such is the power of blogging.




The story is set in an isolated village in Wales in the 1950s. Young Gwenni lives with her mother and father and sister, Bethan, a family that is not really a family at all. Gwenni is very close to her father 'Tada', but is heartily disliked by her mother and older sister. Why? Well, Gwenni is very definitely 'different'. At night, when asleep, she can fly and she can also see things that others don't; Toby jugs on the shelf reacting to events in the house; a fox-fur blinking at her in church; moving faces in the peeling paintwork in the kitchen. Gwenni's mother calls her odd and is constantly afraid of what the neighbours will think of her strange daughter who loves to read and write stories.

Luckily, Gwenni herself is not isolated. Apart from her father she also gets on well with 'Nain' - her grandmother, Mrs. Evans, an educated woman who lends her books, and her best friend and soulmate, Alwenna. But there's a growing problem. Alwenna is older than Gwenni and has just discovered boys: she is beginning not to have any time for Gwenni.

The story really begins when Gwenni is out flying one night and sees the dead body of Ifan Evans floating in the reservoir. She prays it isn't true, that she has dreamt it. When she visits the Evans family the next day and finds Mrs. Evans's face is bleeding, and her husband missing, she assumes - and hopes - that a visit to the dentist has caused the damage. Gwenni sets about trying to find the missing husband. He's known as a bit of a brute and a womaniser and innocent Gwenni starts to discover things she wishes she'd hadn't. When the dead body of Ifan Evans actually does turn up the life of the village is turned upside down. Gwenni's family has secrets and these secrets seem to involve her mentally ailing mother... and possibly the dead man. Is Gwenni going to have do as Alwenna instructs and 'grow up' fast?

Well, obviously I don't know anything about 1950s Wales but I do remember late 1950s and early 1960s Cornwall and, to tell the truth, there isn't much difference. Penzance was a different place to rural Wales but attitudes were very similar. All working class families back then had their little secrets and I have to admit to doing just what Gwenni did and lurking quietly so that the adults forgot I was there. Amazing what you learnt as they chatted on, oblivious. I felt like I knew the Morgan family intimately, possibly because I identified so strongly with the stultified, claustrophobic atmosphere of that time; behaviour was strictly regulated and 'shame' was a big factor in keeping people in their place. Although, it was interesting to note, that ten years later, in the early sixties, church or chapel was less of a feature in people's lives and less of a regulating influence.

Gwenni is somewhat the Welsh equivalent of Mattie Gokey from A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. She's intelligent, full of curiosity, bookish. She's also, like Mattie, an unlikely candidate for further education simply because of her poor background. I felt for Gwenni just as I felt for Mattie - horribly sad for her prospects and angry and annoyed at the adults who try to thwart her ambition or squash her personality.

In this book the reader is in that odd situation where he or she knows more about what's going on than Gwenni. She's not mature enough to understand much of what she discovers, or has hinted to her, but the reader of course is and can see much of the calamity coming. That's not to say that the reader knows everything, of course, and things happen which take you by surprise. But really the joy of this book is in the world building, in following traumatic village events as they unfold - the story is told in the present tense - and in the fact that you really do care about the people in it, even the unpleasant ones. No mean achievement on the part of Mari Strachan; she has produced a page-turner for her first book - I gather it was a BBC4 'Book at Bedtime' at some stage - and I sincerely hope there will be a lot more from her.

Comments

Oh this sounds fab, I must look it up! The start of your description also made me think of The Snow Spider books by Jenny Nimmo - d'you know those at all? I think you might like them... *g*
It was fab! One of those books that you just 'float' through, if you know what I mean? I've put it on the charity shop pile, not because I didn't like it but because I'm trying to be a bit firm with myself about what I keep. Would you like it?

I haven't read anything by Jenny Nimmo (is she any relation to Derek Nimmo I ask myself...) but I've heard a lot about her from my grandaughter who loves her Charlie Bones books. I'll make a note of The Snow Spider books and will see what the library has.
Ooh, if you're going to charity-shop it anyway, then I'd love it, thank you! *g* I'd offer you The Snow Spider in exchange, but I do want to hang onto that one - you're welcome to borrow it though, if you'd like?

And I adore books that you float through -they're probably my favourite kind... *g*
Excellent. I posted the book to you this morning. :-) Very happy to pass it on to someone who might enjoy it as much as me. I think it might be your kind of thing but could be wrong of course.

I checked out The Snow Spider trilogy on Amazon and because I think my grandaughter would love it I ordered it for myself on AM. Thanks for the offer though, it's appreciated.
And it was waiting for me when I got home last night! Hurrah for the Royal Mail! And hurrah for you too - thank you very much, it looks fab. I've added it to my growing pile-of-books-to-read... I was doing so well while I was travelling to work on the bus, now that I'm back to driving/cycling there's so much less time, despite there being more time... if that makes any sense at all...

Do hope you enjoy The Snow Spider - I actually found that one through fandom! There's a Torchwood fic that was inspired by the story, and the fic was so wonderful that I had to go out and buy the book... *g*
Oh brilliant, am glad it arrived safe and sound. Read it whenever you like... 'tis yours now. :-)

Oooh... I may need to ask you for the link to that Torchwood story when I've read the book. Funny how many folk are basing fanfic on favourite books these days. lukadreaming said that she'd bought Temeraire by Naomi Novik (my latest read) because someone had written a Primeval fic inspired by the book. Amazing. And interesting. :-)
Did it before I forgot - it was Borne by Wind, we Southward Blow by Miss Winterhill! It very much caught me in my TW phase too, so how it'll hold up to non-phase-y people I don't know, but... I liked it! *g*

Sounds interesting. Thanks for the rec.

I just read Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff.

It's the kind of thing I'd normally shy away from, a novel about two people with multiple personality disorder, but I was totally absorbed!

I've just checked the library catalogue and there is exactly one copy of Set this House in Order in Devon. *g* Anyway, I've put it on my list of books to get from the library so thanks for the rec.