The Well by Catherine Chanter
Published by Cannongate
3rd September 2015
When Ruth Ardingly and her family first drive up from London in their grime-encrusted car and view The Well, they are enchanted by a jewel of a place, a farm that appears to offer everything the family are searching for. An opportunity for Ruth. An escape for Mark. A home for their grandson Lucien.
But The Well's unique glory comes at a terrible price. The locals suspect foul play in its verdant fields and drooping fruit trees, and Ruth becomes increasingly isolated as she struggles to explain why her land flourishes whilst her neighbours' produce withers and dies. Fearful of envious locals and suspicious of those who seem to be offering help, Ruth is less and less sure who she can trust.
As The Well envelops them, Ruth's paradise becomes a prison, Mark's dream a recurring nightmare, and Lucien's playground a grave.
I haven't come across any publicity for The Well, it just happened to be an off the shelf purchase a few weeks ago. It's kind of a dystopian novel set in the present day, about what seems an idyllic place where it almost always seems to rain. And I don't mean rain as in persistent, leaves you soaking rain, but that sense of freshness and growth that water brings to the plants and air around it.
Ruth and Mark Ardingly escape their London home for a new beginning. The Well seems to offer them everything they have ever dreamed of, and could hope for, and initially they are the envy of their friends. They soon discover that their initial joy is to be thwarted by their neighbour's increasing hostility to their apparent succcess in everything they do, whilst all around them, businesses and farms struggle and cease to exist due to a drought that no one can explain. Whilst at The Well, the water continues to fall.
Alongside this part of the story-line runs the mystery of who killed Lucien, Ruth and Mark's grandson. No one knows who is to blame, in fact, Ruth isn't sure if she did it, or if it was Mark, or even one of the Sisters who have come to The Well in the form of a religious cult. As the story progresses, we move back and forth in time, to when Ruth and Mark were first starting out, and all was well, and again to the present day, when Ruth, still under house arrest, is trying to get to the bottom of what happened on that fateful day.
I did find the book's pace quite slow and plodding which meant it actually took me longer to finish that it normally does when I read something I enjoy but that sort of fitted in with the theme somewhat. It's been selected as one of the current Richard & Judy titles, so is bound to do well.