I reviewed Sandlands by Rosy Thornton as a member of #RBRT (and wasn’t I in for a treat!)
I gave this collection of short stories 5* out of 5*
A collection of linked short stories, all set in and around the small village of Blaxhall in the sandlings of coastal Suffolk, which is the reason for the title, ‘Sandlands’. The collection is inspired by the landscape of the area and its flora and fauna, as well as by its folklore and historical and cultural heritage. Six of the twelve stories focus around a particular bird, animal, wildflower or insect characteristic of the locality, from barn owl to butterfly. The book might be described as a collection of ghost stories; in fact, while one or two stories involve a more or less supernatural element, each of them deals in various ways with the tug of the past upon the present, and explores how past and present can intersect in unexpected ways. The stories uncover what is real and enduring beneath the surface of things.
What can I say about this book! I loved it; devoured it in one sitting.
And the cover! The image of the ethereal barn owl; the staring, seemingly unblinking, eye is, for me, a metaphor for the author’s depth of study, of research and knowledge of her subject.
Sandlands encompasses sixteen short stories that are based around the Sussex landscape, traditions, the different seasons,human nature and nature itself
Rosy Thornton has an empathetic writing style. Her portrayal of all the diverse characters shows an instinctive knowledge of human emotions and reactions to various situations. Each anecdote is an excellent observation of people, fascinating in so many different ways, and each is satisfyingly complete
There are lots of entwining themes; of quiet humour, time shifts, mystery and ancient history, folklore, superstitions, life and death, nature and even sometimes, a subtle personification of nature and animals (see below).
The stories are told variously through first person and third person point of view; individual voices so different that it’s possible to envisage them… and certainly for the reader to empathise and react to every story in many different emotional ways.
But what struck me most as I savoured these tales was the beautiful poetic prose, the rhythmic flow of the narrative, the extensive and unique use of words,the syntax and the way Rosy Thornton ‘strings’ those words together. Let me show you what I mean. This is just one example. I could have dipped into this book anywhere but this sequence is taken from The Witch Bottle
“A soft, plosive pop, inaudible beyond the confines of the bottle, released the first gauzy wisp of smoke and with it a smouldering, acrid odour, Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Then came the flame. Bluish and tentative at first, it began to lap along a ridge of fabric, but quickly grew bolder, darkening to purple and rich red, then leapt, hungry and orange, to lick inside the glass. Finally it found a crack, the way to the outside air and life-giving oxygen– where, invigorated, it bucked and swayed its wild banshee dance, until it met the threads of Persian wool.
You just have to read these stories. I thoroughly recommend Sandlands.