When Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home on the edge of Morecambe Bay, she despairs: the long-empty house is crumbling, undermined by two voracious sycamores.
What she doesn't realise is that she's not alone: her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, who anxiously watch over her, longing to make amends.
Because as the past comes back to Jack and Netty, they begin to see the summer of 1963 clearly, when Netty was desperately ill and a stranger moved in. Charismatic, mercurial Timothy Richardson, with his seemingly miraculous powers of healing, who drew all their attention away from Annette...
Now, they must try to draw another stranger towards her, one who can rescue her.Blurring the boundaries between the corporeal and spirit worlds and subtly echoing the myth of Baucis and Philemon, this is an eerily beautiful, evocative and highly original novel, which underlines the eternal potency of hope.
Fell by Jenn Ashworth was published in hardback by Sceptre Books on 14 July 2016 and is the author's fourth novel. I have read and enjoyed all of Jenn Ashworth's books, she has a very distinctive writing style, sometimes challenging but always compelling. I reviewed her second novel, Cold Light here on Random Things in March 2011.
Fell is an incredibly clever and complex story that centres around an old house, The Sycamores, in the run-down seaside town of Grange-over-sands in the North of England.
Annette has returned to The Sycamores, her childhood home. The house is empty, her parents are dead. It is dirty and dusty, but packed full of memories. Also there are the voices of her mother and father; Netty and Jack, and it is their voices who tell the story of what happened in 1963. As Netty and Jack watch Annette sweep and clean, they reflect and enable the reader to realise who Annette is, and how she became that woman.
In 1963 Netty was desperately ill. She and Jack opened their house to lodgers; young men working away from home who each had a room and two meals per day. Jack had to take on more of the domestic duties than the average 1960s husband would, and both of them protected Annette from the horrors of Netty's pain. Yet they also distanced themselves from her, and the reader realises that Annette still bears the scars of her childhood.
When a young man, Tim Richardson comes into their lives, Netty and Jack see hope. Tim appears to have a magical touch, maybe he can heal Netty? Their hope and desperation enable Tim to push them to their limits.
Fell is an atmospheric story, created so skilfully and snaring the reader in, and not letting go. The damp old house, the almost claustrophobic small town and the overwhelming feeling of despair could feel gloomy and depressing, but instead the author has created a story that is comforting, even uplifting in places.
Haunting and forceful, Fell is excellently structured, I enjoyed the time shifting. Although there's the supernatural element, this isn't a ghost story. It is, however, a clever and interesting way of telling the story of these intriguing characters. Excellent. Highly recommended by me.
Jenn Ashworth was born in 1982 in Preston. She studied English at Cambridge and since then has gained an MA from Manchester University, trained as a librarian and run a prison library in Lancashire.
She now lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster.
Find out more about Jenn Ashworth and her writing at www.jennashworth.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter @jennashworth