Under the Mountain by Sophie Cooke

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Under the Mountain by Sophie Cooke

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: The second novel from award winning author Sophie Cooke examines the events of one short, claustrophobic summer in the lives of an extended family in the Highlands of Scotland. The crumbling and decaying mansion they inhabit is a vivid and very successful symbol of the floundering relationships within the family unit, and it's appearance prepares us well for the series of events which are to enfold in the course of the book.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091799441

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The second novel from award winning author Sophie Cooke examines the events of one short, claustrophobic summer in the lives of an extended family in the Highlands of Scotland. The crumbling and decaying mansion they inhabit is a vivid and very successful symbol of the floundering relationships within the family unit, and its appearance prepares us well for the series of events which are to unfold in the course of the book.

In terms of plot and action, not a great deal happens, and because of this, the novel did feel overlong. The characters were however well delineated, and as a study of personality the novel did work very well. I was particularly impressed by the young narrator, the poor, sick child Catherine, sidelined to watching her cousins from a distance through illness. She did however appear older than her years which was a pity, and detracted somewhat from her credibility as a narrator - when witnessing the attack on the dog, for example, I had to suspend belief… would such a young child have acted with such composure? Perhaps - and it may be the author's intent to encourage the reader to look deep beneath the surface of the characters - but at times this almost dehumanised the characters, rendering them much less believable.

The true strength and beauty in the novel comes from the descriptive scenes, which were breathtaking. Whether describing physical characteristics of landscapes or people, Cooke brings the environment and personalities to life, in a moving and touching way. Lingering underneath the apparent calm is a hidden psychological depth - if not in fact a threat - and we are constantly reminded that all is not as it seems.

The character of Sam exemplified this beautifully - outwardly charming, but a maelstrom of emotion and duplicity beneath the skin. He emerged as an immensely dislikeable character, and I was somewhat unnerved by his cunning nature - very well portrayed!

Amazon have likened Cook's latest novel to the work of Maggie O'Farrell, and whilst I can see a superficial resemblance - the mystery of relationships, and the deceptions practised in maintaining them, Cooke's novel delves much deeper, and gives many interesting psychological insights into the dynamics of relationships. However, this can become a tad tedious at times-especially when the insights are put into the mouths of the young protagonists - 'children' in their teens. By doing so, the philosophies appear contrived, and I do wonder if it would have been more successful for the adult characters, rather than the children, to ponder the meanings of life and the universe! It was strangely unnerving to hear mature thoughts from youngsters -perhaps in part that was the author's intent, but it did feel contrived at times.

The conclusion of the novel was disappointing, and something of an anti climax. It appeared almost as an after thought, and I felt that the characters deserved a more rounded conclusion. Overall though, this was a satisfying and at times challenging read. Cooke is a wonderful wordsmith, and some of the passages in the novel came alive with an immediacy and vibrancy which were a joy to behold. It was however overlong - with little in the way of plot to sustain the momentum. Having said that, I intend to read Cooke's first novel soon - and am looking forward to doing so.

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

If this type of novel appeals to you then we can recommend After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell.

Buy Under the Mountain by Sophie Cooke at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Under the Mountain by Sophie Cooke at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Under the Mountain by Sophie Cooke at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Under the Mountain by Sophie Cooke at Amazon.com.


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Molly Keefe said:

I have just read this book and I think it is probably worth pointing out that the story is not actually narrated by the 9-year-old character, Catherine Farrants! I agree, if a 9-year-old girl had been making the narrator's observations, then that would have been hard to believe. But she wasn't. She is a very strong main character, though.