Review: The Well

Posted 12 May, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

The Well
By: Catherine Chanter
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster CA

From the winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, a brilliantly haunting and suspenseful debut set in modern-day Britain where water is running out everywhere except at The Well—the farm of one seemingly ordinary family whose mysterious good fortune leads to suspicion, chaos, and ultimately a shocking act of violence.

Ruth Ardingly has just been released from prison to serve out a sentence of house arrest for arson and suspected murder at her farm, The Well. Beyond its borders, some people whisper she is a witch; others a messiah. For as soon as Ruth returns to The Well, rain begins to fall on the farm. And it has not rained anywhere else in the country in over three years.

Ruth and her husband Mark had moved years before from London to this ancient idyll in the hopes of starting their lives over. But then the drought began, and as the surrounding land dried up and died, and The Well grew lush and full of life, they came to see their fortune would come at a price. From the envy of their neighbors to the mandates of the government, from the fanaticism of a religious order called the Sisters of the Rose to the everyday difficulties of staying close as husband and wife, mother and child—all these forces led to a horrifying crime: the death of their seven-year-old grandson, drowned with cruel irony in one of the few ponds left in the countryside.

Now back at The Well, Ruth must piece together the tragedy that shattered her marriage, her family, and her dream. For she believes her grandson’s death was no accident, and that the murderer is among the people she trusted most. Alone except for her guards on a tiny green jewel in a world rapidly turning to dust, Ruth begins to confront her worst fears and learns what really happened in the dark heart of The Well.

I found out about this book from the publishers. It sounded interesting, a mix of suspense and a post-apocalyptic world of sorts. I was provided with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available on 19 May 2015.

The Well was a curious novel, the unravelling of the story slow and setting up Ruth’s story through memories and dealing with the present time (why was she under house arrest? Why did Mark lose his job? What happened to Lucien exactly?). It’s hard to explain my feelings about this novel, but it does do a good job in setting up the eerie and strange atmosphere of the story; it wasn’t what I expected. The reader feels that sense of isolation and dread out in The Well, of being alone with your own thoughts and the world sort of watching and waiting to pounce on you, even if you can’t always see them hovering. It’s quite unnerving, and adds to the overall reading experience.

The story itself was pretty weird, I was expecting the fanaticism to balance out with the everyday/political/social concerns about The Well but I was surprised that the Sisters of the Rose really slipped in and became a major part of Ruth’s life. Their presence added to the very eerie and tense atmosphere of the novel, wedging into Ruth’s life and unbalancing her already-fragile relationships further away, isolating Ruth even more. It’s strange because I initially felt Ruth was the more grounded between her and her husband and Mark was irking me with his increasingly-erratic behaviour, but in the end it’s Ruth that ends up rather unhinged by events. The people around her just wasn’t with her, and then there’s the tragedy with her grandson to push her over the edge. It’s sad to see how The Well and the sisters contributed to the decline of Mark and Ruth’s relationship, but it was clear that they were already suffering from issues before moving to the Well.

Despite of the set-up of the story and the thematic elements of it (a study of relationships, human isolation, issues with men as presented through the Sisters of the Rose), I found myself not really caring for the characters. I’m not sure if it’s because of the set-up of the story or how the narrative indulges a bit too much into Ruth’s memory, or the creepy nature of the Sisters and how they found their way into Ruth’s life, but I just wanted to know what happened to Lucien. The apocalyptic element of the setting also was a bit of a letdown; you know that there’s a major water shortage going on and there’s all these government policies and announcements mentioned in passing, but the Well is just so isolating, I never really got that sense of place.

Overall, The Well was an interesting read, though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting and in the end not quite the read I would’ve checked out. Nonetheless the structure of the storytelling was interesting and the question of what happened to Lucien and what led to Ruth’s house arrest kept me around. Readers of suspense with an unusual setting and premise may want to check out this title.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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2 Responses to “Review: The Well”

  1. I’ve been dithering over whether or not to read this (we got it in at work a few months ago) and your review hasn’t swayed me etiher way – damn you, Li 😉

    • Ack, sorry to hear my review hasn’t convinced you one way or the other 😛 The writing and the structure was great, but yeah, the story and characters didn’t quite stick with me afterwards…

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