Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Earth Hums in B Flat - Mari Strachan

I actually have to admit that I read this before I had finished Midnight’s Children in between Book One and Book Two - does anyone else do that if they are reading quite a lengthy meaty book with books or volumes in it? I had won a copy of Mari Strachan’s ‘The Earth Hum’s in B Flat’ from a giveaway from the lovely Lizzy Siddals blog. I had been wanting to read this book for quite a while after hearing some wonderful reviews from other bloggers and some of the media. There were three other factors that made me really want to read it however and those were a) the cover b) the title and c) the fact that the author Catherine O’Flynn who wrote the superb What Was Lost had quoted wonderful things about it all over it. Therefore before even starting Mari Strachan’s debut it had a lot to live up to… but would it?

This book is essentially a tale of growing up though I wouldn’t put that dreadful label of ‘coming of age tale’ on it though I suppose in many ways it is. When you are young everything is black and white though not so much for the narrator of The Earth Hums in B Flat, and the wonderful creation that is, Gwenni Morgan. In the land of 1950’s Wales where a TV is rare Gwenni has two main interests which are reading (especially detective classics) and the people around her but never does she border on precocious, she is simply interested in everything. Gwenni is described by the fellow villagers of her small town as “quaint” though her mother thinks this means “everyone thinks you’re odd”. This is down to a slightly overactive imagination where Toby jugs are always watching you, fox scarfs are appealing to her to give them a true burial and the fact that she can fly at night. All these slightly surreal and bizarre images and sights Gwenni throw in just add to her character, voice and are a very comical aside when the book can get very dark and serious.

As Gwenni becomes more interested in the people around her she discovers that the adult world is full of mysteries and secrets. When one of the villagers goes missing Gwenni decides that like the hero’s in her detective books she will find out just what is going on in her village and get to the bottom of all the mysteries she only hears the whispers of (mainly through the gossiping villagers who don’t think young ears are listening). However soon enough she finds that not all secrets and mysteries have happy ending and some of them should stay uncovered.

With all this going on Mari Strachan also manages to fit in the story of Gwenni growing up and how things change in those pre-teenage years. Friendship is one subject that is written about with wit and in some parts sadness as Gwenni’s older (and wiser – in terms of repeating her mother’s – the queen of gossip in the village – words) friend Alwenna starts to take notice of boys, who Gwenni despises and changes no longer wishing to be Gwenni’s sidekick in all her adventures. The other subject is family but I don’t want to give too much away with that storyline.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a book that warms the heart, with a world that you can’t wait to dip into, you can picture life in the village and how hard things were for some of the lesser well off families (such as Gwenni’s). You see how idle gossip can tear people apart and also how people’s imaginations can runaway with them. This is the perfect book to curl up and spend a single Sunday devouring though I would try and prolong the experience in all honesty. Highly recommended.

Sadly I missed a live blog chat, which was partly the point of winning the competition to read the book, with Mari Strachan on Lizzy’s blog. What would I have asked her? I only had two immediate questions which would have been “where did you get such a wonderful title” and “was it in any part autobiographical”. However some other people did ask those questions and you can see the whole thing here. I have to say in my lead up to reading the Orange shortlist it must be a great selection if this one was left of it (and the long list too)!


Candy Schultz said...

I agree with you about that 'coming of age' label. It always puts me off.

Savidge Reads said...

Candy you are quite, quite right!