A gripping, captivating novel about love, loss and what home really means.
Forty-three year old Ria is used to being alone. As a child, her life changed forever with the death of her beloved father and since then, she has struggled to find love.
That is, until she discovers the swimmer.
Ben is a young illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka who has arrived in Norfolk via Moscow. Awaiting a decision from the Home Office on his asylum application, he is discovered by Ria as he takes a daily swim in the river close to her house. He is 20 years her junior, and theirs is an unconventional but deeply moving romance, defying both boundaries and cultures - and the xenophobic residents of Orford. That is, until tragedy occurs.
©2010 Roma Tearne (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
I've fortunately never lost a child - the portrayal of grief of the mother left me feeling physically sick. I thought this was a brilliant constructed and believable story.
One thing I would say about the reader though, although she read the female voice very well, all her male characters sounded like the two fat men in French and Saunders.
I have read two of Roma Tearne's previous novels so I was not expecting this to be a joyful read. Even so, the tragedy referred to in the book's blurb occurs so early on in the narrative that it left me reeling, wondering how it could redeem itself. I did manage a few tears of joy at the end but the majority of the book is truly sad. Having said that, I enjoyed it, but then I am a bit of a morbid reader.
43 year old Ria is a bit of a loner following the loss of her much loved father while she was still young. She has inherited his cottage on the Fens of Norfolk, where she is living alone, working as a poet, when she starts to be aware of a presence around her house. She is understandably nervous, given the recent killing of animals and suspicion of illegal immigrants in her area.
Ben is a young refugee from Sri Lanka, having escaped the purging of the Tamils by travelling by lorry via Moscow. A qualified doctor in his home country, he is working as a farm worker to survive.
Ria and Ben form an unlikely alliance, given their different backgrounds and huge difference in age - then the tragedy strikes.
There are other vivid characters who are also introduced: Rias's bully of a brother and his family, Ben's mother, and Eric, an elderly farming man who catches eels in the river at the end of Ria's garden and who has known her since she was a child. It is Eric who holds the whole story together, though at times he is a bit too good to be true.
Tearne is excellent on expatriation and the struggles of the Tamils in Sri Lanka but there is so much tragedy and death in this story, both past and present, that you'd have to be in a strong frame of mind to read it. It is, however, lifted by the vivid descriptions of the harsh Norfolk countryside.
The Audible version was well read by Patience Tomlinson. Unfortunately she read Ben's mother's thoughts with an English accent and then used a slight accent for her spoken word. I would have preferred a native speaker for her voice.
I find like all audiobooks and written books that it is hard to get into at the beginning and sometimes well worth listening to the first chapter twice before proceeding. However this book is definately worth pursuing. i found i was involuntarily smiling or crying on occassions, something I havent done with any other book. It is well read and I found that I was looking forward to my ipod moment where I could discover what would happen next. It opened my mind too, which only a good book can do.
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