It feels like I’ve been waiting a very long time for a new book by Claire Fuller because I adore her writing. I’m thrilled to share my review of her latest novel, Unsettled Ground today and I would like to thank Hannah Sawyer for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.
When I first began blogging in 2015, Claire Fuller’s debut Our Endless Numbered Days was one of my books of the year and you can read my review here. When I reviewed Claire’s second book Swimming Lessons here, I was privileged to interview her too. I then reviewed Claire’s wonderful third novel Bitter Orange here.
What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant?
What would you do to get it back?
Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.
But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.
Unsettled Ground is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.
My Review of Unsettled Ground
Dot’s death uncovers an unsettling chain of events.
When you’ve loved everything an author has ever written and they have a new novel it’s always an anxious moment. Picking up Unsettled Ground I wondered whether the magic of Claire Fuller’s writing would be present. It was. But more than the exquisite luminosity of her prose that I have come to expect, Unsettled Ground has an even deeper and more emotional resonance than ever. I thought it was superb.
In essence, the narrative is simple. A middle aged set of twins, Jeanie and Julius, find themselves in financial difficulties after the sudden death of their mother, Dot. However, Unsettled Ground took me a long while to read. Its intensity, its profound exploration of relationships, grief, deceit, pride and love meant that I needed to savour each word and allow myself to absorb and process the nuances and emotions threaded into the story. Unsettled Ground is a rather like an onion that Janie might grow in their garden. Each chapter peels back a layer of humanity that is breath-taking in its comprehension of what makes us who we are. Indeed Dot’s human flaws are the driving force behind the narrative.
It’s no spoiler to say that Dot dies in the first few pages of Unsettled Ground, but her influence is dominant throughout. She is a much a presence as the twins and the catalyst of so much of the action. She’s such a compelling and complex woman that I ended Unsettled Ground not knowing if I loathed or pitied her, if I loved her or despised her. I would say that by the end of the book I was broken by the impact of her on Julius and Jeanie. Dot made me rage and made me weep.
The claustrophobic relationship between Jeanie and Julius is utterly absorbing. Claire Fuller made me want them to get away from one another and live totally separate lives whilst simultaneously hoping they’d never be parted. I thought about them, Jeanie particularly, when I wasn’t reading about them. More minor characters like Bridget are equally compelling. They somehow reflect society perfectly without ever becoming stereotypes or pastiche so that all life is present within the pages of Unsettled Ground.
Alongside the psychological relationships aspect of Unsettled Ground, there is a dark wryness and a tense thriller too. I found my pulse elevated as Jeanie found herself emotionally and physically threatened. I kept pausing in my reading as I wasn’t sure I was going to like what happened next and yet I couldn’t let go of the novel. I thought Claire Fuller’s manipulation of me as a reader was just fabulous.
Perfectly plotted, and beautifully written with brilliant characterisation, Unsettled Ground is Claire Fuller crafting the narrative at her most sublime. I thought it was a wonderful book.
About Claire Fuller
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliott Prize. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.
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