Reviewed by Emma Crowley
The river can lead you home. Or it can take you under...
In their ramshackle Somerset home, its gardens running down to the river, the Sorrells have gathered for a last-minute wedding.
Lucy is desperate to reunite her fractured family. Eve is fighting to keep her perfect life together. Their mother, Kit, a famous author whose stories have run dry, still seethes with resentment towards her youngest child. And Margot, who left home eight years ago under a black cloud, is forced to come face to face with her darkness...
As the family come together for a week of celebration and confrontation, their relationships are stretched to breaking point. But can you ever heal the wounds of the past?
Many thanks to Orion via NetGalley for my copy of The River Home to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Wow what an incredible story Hannah Richell's fourth book The River Home was. What a journey I was taken on with the Sorrell family as they gather to celebrate the unexpected wedding of daughter Lucy who announced her intentions to marry only a week before the actual date. This was a beautifully written book with the plot so carefully constructed and developed. It is an emotional, raw and very powerful read with words chosen to make the reader stop and contemplate their meaning and significance with regard to whatever character you are reading about. You feel deep compassion for every family member, each one of which is struggling with secrets, pain and heartache although you may not like all of them.
Now that they have been called to gather together perhaps it is the time for everything to come rushing to the surface, for truths will have to spill forth. Will these revelations bring acceptance, peace, forgiveness and understanding or will the devastation and hurt just become ever stronger? 'No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you, like the sickly scent of those apples, like the echoes of a summer's night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.' The river as mentioned here plays a crucial role throughout the book. It becomes like a character in itself and it is never far from the forefront of the girls minds for many different reasons.
Margot has not been back to the family home, Windfalls, since she upped and left without a specific and concrete explanation over eight years ago. She did announce she was leaving and Kit her mother, the successful author who has now become reclusive and unable to write, had her suspicions as to why Margot was departing and did feel it was for the best. Margot would much rather not return to the family home where so many memories echo in the hallways, through the gardens and along the river. But Lucy has requested her presence and so she will do her duty and then escape back to Edinburgh as quickly as possible. It's evident from the beginning that Margot is seen as the black sheep of the family. Clearly something major occurred that has created such hostility and contempt between Margot and Kit, the roots of which will slowly become apparent as the author drip feeds us clues. The revelations only occur in the last 20-25% of the book but this only serves to keep the reader reading ever faster to get to what actually happened and why and to see how the fallout is dealt with.
Margot has built walls around herself and is fearful of letting anyone in. Her pain resounds with every word she utters and action she takes. She can't seem to let go of what is burdening her and sisters Lucy and Eve have no way of cracking her exterior. Or maybe they didn't push hard enough as they were and still are too wrapped up in their own lives. From the minute that Margot arrives at the house and with only a few days of frantic preparation for the wedding, tensions simmer and grow ever stronger and really this is not the way a family unit should be. 'The urge to pick at past wounds, is rising up, a terrible itch that will only be sated by sharp words.' Pain and frustration are commonplace for Margot and the reader thinks it must have been something so catastrophic and painful that occurred all those years ago to lead to such excruciating conflict and pain.
There was all such a big build up to it that I really didn't want to be let down when eventually everything came rushing out. That sounds silly to say but I didn't want a sense of disappointment as in oh is is that all that happened? But when I discovered everything I felt guilty for thinking this earlier on for I was left dumbfounded, an emotional wreck and in shock. I almost didn't want to read on and not because the book took a turn for the worse and became a terrible read no in fact the complete opposite. The threads woven seamlessly together unravelled with the most of appalling of truths finally emerging and I was almost anxious as to what the next turn of the page would bring because I didn't want the inevitable to happen.
At times, I disliked Margot for her attitude towards her family but by the end everything made perfect sense, every action she had taken, every word and opinion she had offered. It was all justified and the sad thing is it should never have been allowed to happen, fester and develop the way it did. Communication is key and unfortunately it is something lacking in all the characters. 'The past can have a funny way of haunting us if we don't face it head on. Ghosts can linger.' Now for the Sorrell family the ghosts are starting to rise but is each family member prepared to hear what they have to say?
Eve is the eldest sister and the one who is seen as having everything perfect and altogether in her life. She did what was expected of her - went to university, met a man, married and had children. She is the one fussing about all the arrangements for the wedding and getting things done in such a short space of time and feels as if the others couldn't care less. She feels on the outer fringes when it comes to Margot and Lucy's relationship and so makes up for it with a constant need to direct others, to guide them and smooth the way when things go wrong. But she needs to step back and let people make their own mistakes and perhaps look at her own personal and family life. Is Eve as together as she seems or is her own carefully constructed world beginning to crumble? Perhaps she is not as wholesome and sweet as she first appears? She sees the fractures in the family but what will she do about it or will she only further add to them? The cosy, balanced life she has worked so hard to create is falling away from her and she is desperate to stop this happening but has she been too reckless in running away from all her responsibilities.
Kit was an enigma and her ex partner Ted and father to the girls I felt was the same. Although we did get to know and understand them somewhat through periods of the book which focused on past memories and recollections. I thought it was brilliant to have these points in the book as reading about the past and the memories it evoked gave us a greater understanding and appreciation of present events and the emotional viewpoints of various characters. One person I did think was definitely under used was Sibella, Ted's wife. She was so wise and gave such good advice with just a few words. She was calm, cool and collected and so in tune with nature and her artistic side. I really wanted her to feature more. Whereas with Kit, I couldn't warm to her at all. She seemed so cold and stand offish and that to get beneath her exterior to see what was going on with her would take quite some work.
As for Lucy, she is the catalyst that pulls the fractured family together. She has her own business and is a free spirit who loves yoga and all things mindfulness. But why has she rushed into marriage so quickly? The mystery element that surrounded her pervaded throughout the majority of the book and I could never quite put my finger on what was actually going on. Margot was the primary character in the beginning but then Lucy took over in the later quarter.
The River Home is an outstanding read for so many reasons and it is very difficult to put into words just why this is the case. The exploration of family dynamics is executed to perfection. It shows how secrets, guilt, anger, love, hate, disappointment and hurt can eat away at us unless we confront things head on. I couldn't recommend this book highly enough yes at times it is a difficult read but at those junctures stop and take time to comprehend what you have read and then come back to it. I think the scene between Jonas and Margot on the morning of the wedding was outstanding and breathtaking. So real, raw and stark which as honesty was pouring forth it needed to be. I don't know Hannah Richell made it through writing such an emotional and heartbreaking book but I am glad she did because it has been a highlight of my reading year so far and a book I would have been gutted to have missed out on. Read this as soon as you can. It's an utter triumph for the author.