Barney Norris – Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain

First book of 2017! I’ve just set up my Goodreads reading challenge for this year at a lofty 52 books, the same target as 2016, which I managed to fail by a whole 20 books. But I will be better this year, I received so many books for Christmas that I’m desperate to read and I’m determined that I will read them all!

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the book I picked as my first. When I read the blurb in Waterstones, I had great ideas about the contents of the book, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first chapter almost made me put the book down altogether, the language was so pretentious that I didn’t think I’d be able to stick with it. It felt like the author was using grandiose words and sentences for the sake of it, rather than to enhance the descriptions of the enchanting place he chose as the location for his novel, the quiet city where rivers intertwine, just like the lives of the people we are about to meet.

Then I turned into the second chapter and I couldn’t have been more shocked by the change in tone. From these grand words and lofty ideas to a woman as common as muck. It was such a change that I could have been convinced that a printing error had put two different books together.

And while I liked this new character more than the first chapter, there were parts that bugged me incredibly. I found the bad language used by the character unnecessary and over the top. Every time I read those words, it made me wince inside, and I found it hard to continue reading. I know that we are supposed to take from this that Rita had lived a hard life and she didn’t take any nonsense, but it completely stopped me from relating to her.

We are also introduced to other characters (as one might guess from the title of the book). I found the schoolboy completely relateable and his grief made me want to reach through the pages and cuddle him. Similarly the old farmer who has just lost his wife. His grief was so palpable and his situation so heartbreaking, it made me want to cry for him.

The army wife, I found her so annoyingly self-absorbed and whiny that I couldn’t feel any empathy for her situation. Yes, her husband is away and her son is at boarding school, but she’s so obsessed with how abandoned she is that she doesn’t stop to think about how she can improve that situation, or what her potential actions mean for those around her.

Then the fifth and final character, a security guard at the Old Sarum English Heritage site. He’s such a minor part in the book that it hardly feels like he should be mentioned here, but if only to complain about the return to pretentious language and flowery ideas that I found completely annoying.

The blurb of the book starts:

“One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide…”

This is what drew me in to want to read the book, but the crash isn’t mentioned until we’re well into the book, and even then, some characters have such a minor involvement in the crash that it feels like a very tenuous link. I just didn’t feel like the five lives really ‘collided’, so much as minorly bumped, and I felt let down by my own expectations for the book.

It’s not that I hated the book, there were many parts that I liked, I just didn’t feel connection to the story in the way that I had hoped. I’ll leave you with a quote from the first chapter which I liked when I read it:

“What I see when I watch Salisbury Cathedral cutting the air is a diagram of prayer, the hope at the centre of my life expressed as the burning arrow of the spire shot into the sky, asking us to look up beyond the everyday, see the size and possibility and quietness of the landscape, and imagine something greater than we are.”

If anything, the book has made me want to visit Salisbury and see for myself the ‘burning arrow of the spire’.

My rating: 3/5Average rating: 3.74
288 pages. Published in: 2016
Read in Paperbackon 1st-2nd January 2017

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