The Well by Catherine Chanter

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The Well by Catherine Chanter

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: The Well is Catherine Chanter's debut novel, a modern 'whodunnit' with a futuristic quasi-apocalyptic twist. Set in a rural idyll during a time of an almost Biblical drought, The Well seems to thrive, verdantly and lushly in spite of the lack of water anywhere else. Drawn by its mythical reputation people come from far and wide to see it with their own eyes; with unpredictable consequences for the family who call it home.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 978-1782113607

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The subject and title of Catherine Chanter's debut novel is a country idyll of which dreams are made: charmingly ramshackle, disarmingly verdant and heaving with fertile acreage. Ruth and Mark can barely believe their luck at finding this perfect retreat, an oasis from their tired and overwrought City existence. Several months down the road and with the entire nation brought to its knees by an almost apocalyptic drought, Ruth and Mark are beginning to question their good fortune in their ownership of The Well.

Victims of petty - and at times, vexatious - gossip about how the small holding remains watered in a record-breaking dry spell, how the livestock thrive and how Mark and Ruth are keeping their financial head above water (no pun intended) bring disharmony not just to them and their once perfect existence, but also to the wider village and town. Accusations fly unfettered and Ruth is called a witch, Mark a water-thief and their family is targeted cruelly and maliciously by the people and neighbours they once called friend.

Is the timing of the arrival of the strange female cult named The Sisters of the Rose of Jericho a coincidence? Why does it softly rain at night while Ruth sleeps and why does that rainfall not extend beyond the green hedges of The Well?

I thought this book was going to be unputdownable; I like a touch of dystopia in my reading stable and whilst in parts it lived up to my expectations, the same could not be said of the whole. I shall elaborate. Firstly, I'm not keen on first person narratives. They can lack perspective and dimension; when you are only seeing something from one person's point of view, it can make the other characters seem one dimensional and I found myself lacking empathy for them - which is a shame as the supporting cast are quite literally integral to the plot.

Secondly, the story begins after The Event has occurred, which is technically almost at the end of the book. The entire telling of the tale is therefore in flashback format and for my money, that's terribly hard to pull off - unless your name is Dennis Potter.

Lastly, whilst the whodunnit element is satisfying - a good quantity of suspects, a heartbreaking ingredient in the identity of the victim and the truth outing - I still have no idea whatsoever why The Well is mysteriously blessed with water while the rest of the country turned into a dust bowl. I expected, at the very least an attempt at passing the rain phenomenon off as a weird micro-climate aberration of some description or perhaps that The Well had been built on an ancient Druid burial ground and had mystical properties... But no. Nothing... Not a sausage! I remain unenlightened even though I actually did a further page read through the book in case I missed it. To no avail; I'd have willingly believed anything as a cause for the rain at that frustrating point - winged incontinent unicorns sprang briefly to mind!

The whodunnit concluded gracefully and in such a way that makes you cluck with tick box gratification. However, I am restless with the need to understand the rest of the story. I must know why it rained and I am reduced to being a dog with a soggy bone!

So this is why I have awarded three and a half stars... I'm annoyed that I don't have a complete picture; I have a very definite sense of having done a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Mona Lisa, only to find that there are 10 pieces missing and they complete her smile.

To conclude my review on a more positive note, I felt The Well was enthusiastically written, like so many debut novels. I loved the expanse of adjectives and the warmth the writer engendered in the reader for The Well and it's surrounding loveliness, even though it occasionally felt as though she was trying a little bit too hard. A very big thank you to the kind ladies and gents at Canongate for entrusting this copy to us for review.

Aside from my own feelings about this book, you may very well enjoy it, particularly if you like your dystopian tonic to have a twist of crime (did you see what I did there?). If The Well appeals you may also wish to take a look at I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which we loved and considered entirely superior to the film of the same title, or perhaps a foray into the pages of The Digital Plague by Jeff Somers which will really make your heart race.

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