(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JAN 29, 2006)
Author Susan Fletcher's narrative caught me up from page one and held me riveted until the conclusion of her Whitbread-winning debut novel Eve Green. Although not billed as a suspense thriller or mystery, I found this excellent novel to be extremely disquieting, tension-filled and, even though the reader is made aware of what is to come early on in the story, it is a real page-turner.
Twenty-nine year-old Eve Green narrates. Pregnant with her first child by the man she has adored for almost twenty years, she reflects back on an earlier, more innocent time.
Evangeline lived in Birmingham with her mother, a single parent, until she was suddenly, tragically orphaned at age seven - about to turn eight. Evie, as she was then called, was sent to live with her maternal grandparents on their farm in the Welsh countryside, just outside the tiny village of Cae Tresaint. Her mother's parents, devastated by the loss of their only child, welcomed their granddaughter with open arms and much love.
Evie never knew much about her father. Her mom, and later her grandparents, made sure she was kept in the dark about the man who sired her. It was obvious to the child, however, that her mother loved him and thought he was in Birmingham, where she believed she would find him one day. She even kept a shoe box full of mementos of their time together, and a diary, which Evie was forbidden to touch. The shoe box made its way to Wales along with the little girl. Evie would sneak the box down from its hiding place at the top of a wardrobe and look through the contents time and time again, as she tried to piece together the history of her becoming. She was told in Cae Tresaint never to mention her father, but she knew he was called "the Irishman," and that she got her wild red hair and freckles from him.
There were other secrets, prejudices and mysteries concerning the town's people, including the disappearance and probable death of a local girl. Evie has some classified information of her own - her undisclosed friendship with an outsider believed to be mad, a lie she tells which has terrible consequences, and a chilling incident with a green-eyed man that will mark her always.
Eve Green is compelling in the beauty of its lyrical prose. The magic of a little girl's poignant memories illuminates the novel. Here are revealing portraits of the grandparents Eve loves so much; her three deep and important childhood friendships - all with improbable people - a sensitive and caring farmhand, a crippled recluse, and an intellectual schoolmate with dreams of wandering the world. Eve's love of the Welsh countryside, language and lore is also evident. She has a sense of belonging in the natural world and Ms. Fletcher outdoes herself in her atmospheric descriptions:
"Tor-y-gwynt is surrounded by peat bogs and grass so sharp that it can nick your skin. Red kites are spotted there. Sheep and rabbit dung peppers its lower stones, and I've found many animal bones in the peat over the years - sheep, deer, others. And the wind is strong at the Tor. Hair flutters like a snared bird, and I used to like standing on the highest boulder, trying to keep my balance in the wind."
"Comes from the old shepherd’s hut on the ridge. My castle. My mossy, windy outpost. I’d charge up there on clear days hoping to spy a distant, hazy Cardigan Bay. I’d lie in wait behind the stones for hikers or birdwatchers or deer, or a glimpse of Billy Macklin before he became my friend. And I had breezy picnics in that tussock grass, secret teenage cigarettes, long daydreams, and I hid there in rainstorms or when I just didn't want to be found."
Eve Green reminds me, in some ways, of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. (Also of Richard Llewllyn's extraordinary How Green Was My Valley.) Scout Finch, like Eve Green, is eight and bereft of her mother. Both novels are set in rural areas. They are both rich and colorful in description of locale and locals, and both explore the native customs and mores of the period. Reclusive characters Bo Radley and Billy Macklin are not dissimilar in nature. There are other commonalties, but the one which stands out the most is that these are both outstanding novels. Although, personally, I don't think there are many works of fiction written in English in the last 100 years to match To Kill A Mockingbird. Given my feelings on that - Eve Green is an outstanding work and I recommend it highly.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Guardian Unlimited articel on Susan Fletcher
- Reading Guide for Eve Green
- Curled Up review of Eve Green
- Whitbread review of Eve Green
- The Core review of Eve Green
- Reading Guide for Oystercatchers
- Curled Up review of Oystercatchers
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About the Author:
Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 She grew up in Solihull, in the West Midlands. She studied at York University for a BA in English and then took a year out to go back-packing in Australia and New Zealand. Back in England she headed to UEA and their prestigious writing Creative Writing Course and gained an MA.
Her first novel won the Whitbread First Novel award for its "luminous quality of writing which lifts it out of the category of a simple coming-of-age novel into something approaching poetry, Eve Green stood out for all the judges and will appeal to readers of any sex."
Susan now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.