Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Earth Hums in B Flat

Chester's recent Literature Festival had a series of lunch time spots featuring the work of new writers. I went to hear Mari Strachan speak of her novel The Earth Hums in B Flat, was captivated by what she had to say, bought the book and stayed up half that night reading it.

It's the tender story of young Gwennie, kind, imaginative, dreamy and as yet innocent. She lives in a small Welsh village where everyone knows everyone else's secrets but nobody talks of them. Her best friend Alwenna in particular knows more secrets than anyone else, secrets Gwennie, being more naive, is often slow to find out. But as the novel unfolds, Gwennie learns something of the danger of secrets and finds herself at last in possession of the most horrifying secret of all, one she can never share.

The story is framed round Gwennie's belief that she can fly, and at night in her dreams she does. And in one of these dreamed night-time flights over her village she sees a body floating in the "Baptism pool". Whose this body is and how it got there is revealed by degrees, very subtly and very cleverly. The uncovering of the true facts of this death - for what Gwennie has seen is a real body - parallels the process of Gwennie's growing up and experiencing the unpalatable side of human life.
From the very beginning of the story we are set in time and place very accurately - Gwennie's mother, who longs for a better house with "a proper kitchen and a bathroom", comforts herself with Evening of Paris scent and a blue satin dressing gown. Meanwhile she endures a house with a miserable open wood fire, and a scullery with a dripping tap and mice.
Gwennie is sent by her mother to look after the children of Mrs Evans so that Mrs Evans can go to Price the Dentist who will be in the village that day. But when Gwennie, who has dawdled, arrives she thinks Mrs Evans has already seen Price the Dentist because there is blood everywhere, and although there is a poker is lying on the floor, crockery is broken, and a sticky mess on the floor it never occurs to Gwennie that anything more sinister has happened there. What has actually happened is something we discover much later in the novel, and it's the how it happened that horrifies both us as readers and Gwennie.
I'm not going to disclose the ending here as that might prevent you reading the novel for yourself, something I urge you to do: I thoroughly enjoyed this story, for its cleverly managed storyline, I adored the character of Gwennie, who has that rare courage and audacity that perhaps only the really good and innocent possess and I loved its clear picturing of a small, closely-knit Welsh village in the 1950's, a portrait not unlike Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood". And every bit as lyrical.
A fine, fine novel and an excellent read.


  1. This book sounds delicious ( scary too) and your review of it suitably juicy, Gill.....
    I hoped to make this event at LitFest but couldn't but you have certainly whet my appetite with your words.

  2. Thanks Jan, I'm sure you won't be disappointed with this book -it covers just the period of time you love to recreate so much in your own work.