Review: The Well – Catherine Chanter.

There’s something odd about The Well. In Britain, where water is sparse, The Well is almost overflowing, the only seeming target of the rain, and Ruth and her family are under constant suspicion – why them? What do they know? Is Ruth a witch? What is going on?

The story begins years later as Ruth returns home after a prison sentence for suspected murder and is set to finish with house arrest. As soon as she returns, the rain begins again. She is forced, in almost total isolation, to revisit the past that led to tragedy; the accusations against husband Mark that led them to move, the religious fanaticism that came with the Sisters of the Rose, and the general troubles of marriage, family strains, and the real question: could she actually have done it? She pleads innocence, and is determined to find out.

The Well is ultimately a very dark book, and it will leave you feeling uneasy at times. There’s the almost supernatural feel to the water situation that initially sets you on edge, then the religious fanatics make you feel uncomfortable (alarmingly, because it feels too real at times), and then there’s the ambiguity of Mark and Lucien’s relationship. Is it innocent? Once accusations fly, even years down the line, it’s difficult to shake off.

The scope of the book is very narrow – it’s literally life within The Well that’s explored and nothing more; local envies and tensions are more referred to, the internet as used as the only real reference to the outside world. That isolated scope both encapsulates Ruth’s life, but inhibits the creation of a fuller worldview in crisis, which is the only lacking element of the story.

But, really, this book is gripping. You wonder – could she? Could he? Within that it feels legitimate. Their problems are drastic examples, but you can see why if you’re dealing with X, you might find solace in Y. It’s a journey with many possible routes, and you’re swept along with the possibilities of the past. And as death taints The Well, it was really easy to get caught up in the search for reason.

5th Mar 2015 | Canongate Books

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