Serena by Ron Rash

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Serena by Ron Rash

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Centred in the North Carolina mountains this book is really one big, love story. Strong-willed, charismatic Serena meets her match in husband Pemberton and their married life seems idyllic - apart from one very important detail.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1847674883

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The reader is introduced to one of the two main characters straight away. George Pemberton. But everyone (even his new wife) calls him simply Pemberton. He's faced with an awkward and at the same time delicate situation and deals with it - with violence. No one seems too bothered, not even the local sheriff.

We're deep in loggers' country where men work physically demanding and dangerous jobs. The local doctor (who had to be bribed with all sorts of perks before considering taking the job) highlights the danger in his own witty style If you could gather up all the severed body parts and sew them together, you'd gain an extra worker every month. Life here in the mountains is rudimentary and hard. So hard, in fact, that many of the wives don't live there any longer, they've moved elsewhere. It's written in the period of the Great Depression so that if a man's got a job, well, he's blessed really, should be thanking his lucky stars.

And as the boss and employer of many men, Pemberton is almost a god. And Serena is almost a goddess. Serena is a one-off. Once seen, never to be forgotten. Beautiful, feisty and commands respect from the workers. She and Pemberton seem perfectly suited. Both are ambitious and wish to expand their logging business - especially Serena.

I got the impression early on in the book that although Pemberton is a forceful character, his wife manages to upstage him every now and again. Initially, he finds it rather charming. There's an excellent section in which Rash describes Serena 'taming' an eagle; it will be her new hunting companion. And you get a sense of the bleakness of the terrain here. It is being ravaged day by day, the animals are being hunted mercilessly and their own terrain is dwindling. A recipe for disaster?

But there is one thing missing from the Pemberton's marriage. They almost acquire it, but not quite. Heartbreak follows and neither of them can bear to speak of the episode again. But eventually 'it' is their undoing, or more specifically, Pemberton's undoing. He cannot let it alone, leave it be. He's human after all. But is Serena? She comes across as almost super-human. She has no family, no friends, no past that she wishes to discuss at any great length. With anyone. Even Pemberton. She wants her husband to be all things to her. But can he?

The second part of the book is quite action-packed and Pemberton is at the heart of it. And in between, Rash gives us a rolling account of life with the loggers. Their ups and downs. Their daily struggle simply to keep alive. But one or two of the more intelligent workers are able to understand their destruction of the land - and fear for the future. Thought-provoking indeed. And the ending is superb. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy A Small Part of History by Peggy Elliott.

Buy Serena by Ron Rash at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Serena by Ron Rash at

Buy Serena by Ron Rash at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Serena by Ron Rash at


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