All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew – REVIEW

All Rivers Run FreeA lyrical novel in the vein of Sara Baume and Eimear McBride, about marginalisation, mental illness and the power of nature and motherhood in restoring hope.
A woman on the edge of the sea finds a girl on the edge of life.

Brittle but not yet broken, Ia Pendilly ekes out a fierce life in a caravan on the coast of Cornwall – ravaged by floods, cut off from Europe and descended to military rule. In years of living with Bran – her embattled, battering cousin and common law husband – she’s never had her own baby. So Ia rescues the girl. And the girl, in turn, will rescue something in Ia – bringing back a memory she’s lost, giving her the strength to escape, and leading her on a journey downriver, in search of family. In hope of freedom.

Natasha Carthew tells a tale of marginalisation and motherhood in lyrical prose that crashes like waves on the sand; gritty, beautiful and utterly original.

All Rivers Run Free

“She wished for more was all. More than nothing at all it wasn’t such a reach, for all the shells and smooth belly stones she wished for better brighter beautiful moments to fill the muted space more than this mist.”

Thanks to the wonderful Ana at Quercus, I was able to read a copy of this book early. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but it sounded intriguing and the cover really caught my attention. After reading the first page, I realised this wasn’t a book you can read quickly. The unusual syntax, punctuation, and run-on sentences force the reader to savour each word. The lyrical cadence is almost like one long poem and I wasn’t surprised to learn the author is a poet.

“She thought about the soldier and told herself she should know better, she wasn’t meant for common talk her thoughts were out of her mind they went on without her she wished she could get them back.”

The subject matters of mental health and human nature are portrayed in a raw and brutally honest way. At times the events that befall Ia are incredibly bleak and painful but Ia’s journey (both literal and metaphorical) is never entirely void of hope. Almost another character, the harsh Cornish setting had a vivid richness that added another layer of depth to the story. Nature reflects the ruthlessness of human behaviour but it can also offer solace and a promise of better things. 

“Belief in things that you didn’t understand was the best kind perhaps it was the only.”

Whilst Ia is undoubtedly the focus of the story, the other characters were complex and well fleshed out. I was particularly intrigued by the mysterious Geeva who is carried in by the tide one day, and Harper who represents the possibility of redemption and the ability to change for the better. Once I became accustomed to the mesmerising prose style, I was swept away by Ia’s journey home. Ia suffers many losses but the final message is one of hope, and it definitely remains with the reader long after finishing the book. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something a little different than the norm.

(Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon)

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