The Listeners by Edward Parnell

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The Listeners by Edward Parnell

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A moving, intense and vivid story, The Listeners is a tale that haunts on several levels.
Buy? YES Borrow? YES
Pages: 198 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Rethink Press Limited
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781331064

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May 1940. William Abrehart has not spoken since the mysterious death of his father, choosing instead to spend his days in the woods that surround his home. A promise he made to his dying father means that he is responsible for the wellbeing of his two sisters, and their withdrawn mother. Over the course of a weekend, ghosts of the past cause buried secrets, lies and promises to come spilling out - culminating in a series of shocking events.

A book set in the fields and woods of Norfolk, I started reading this whilst I was, in fact, in Norfolk - but had to put it down just because of quite how intense and dark it is. Picking it up a week later in a hospital waiting room, I raced through it - and for once I was grateful that my appointment was so delayed, given how swept away in the dark, turbulent lives of the Abreharts I was. This is not a fun book - little, if anything raises a smile, and the actions of the characters often leave them unlikeable and hard to understand.

However, the writing is such that this book is very hard to put down, and there is a dark, almost feral undertone that runs through this book - the actions of the family as well as the constant references to the Norfolk wildlife making this whole book both a study of a family, and also a study of a group of animals in the wild, and how their interactions affect each other.

The ghosts here are not always the supernatural figures that may first spring to mind, but ghosts of the dead intermingled with buried secrets and ghosts from the past. This whole book haunts, let alone the ghosts!

The constant intermingling with nature, and the strength of the writing reminded me of Ted Hughes at times, with moments of feral beauty and savage sensuality. All that aside, the characters are also well developed, with secrets revealing multifaceted personalities in complex situations. William, Rachel, Kate and Louise are sometimes unlikeable characters, who hurt each other and themselves in selfish and thoughless ways - but it is hard not to feel for them and for their situation.

The Listeners takes inspiration from the poem of the same name by Walter de la Mare, and is a suitable companion to that gothic poem full of birds, shadows and moonbeams. Unsettling, yet undeniably beautiful, this is a stunning first novel by Edward Parnell - and the short length of the book feels fitting, given the matter of fact nature of the prose and the natural conclusion this story comes too.

Do give this a read - thought provoking and wonderfully descriptive, it is likely that The Listeners will haunt you in more ways than one.

May thanks to the publishers for the copy.

Further reading is a tricky one - this book is fairly unique in terms of tone. As mentioned above, there are ties to Ted Hughes, and I would recommend his poems to absolutely everybody. For some reason I was also reminded of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" - a sense of foreboding and uncertainty pervades both that and "The Listeners". Atonement by Ian McEwan also springs to mind - a book that explores civilian life against the backdrop of a war, and the destruction of a family unit from the inside.

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Buy The Listeners by Edward Parnell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Listeners by Edward Parnell at


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