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Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin

A tumble-down Edwardian house that will sooner rather than later tumble down the mud cliffs and away into the sea is where we meet Jacob and Ella. They share a bathroom in the turret, old and cold and not really supposed to be used…but this is where they hide away from the shouts of their parents' arguments. Here they play the Underwater Breathing game, submerging themselves in the water holding their breath for as long as they can. For sixteen year old Jacob it's just a way of drowning out the arguments…but for Ella it is more than that. She is terrified of the sea, of the fact that it will come and swallow their house. She needs to know that she can survive under water. She has to practice.

Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An inspired story of hiding and surviving that goes to prove that even if you learn to breathe under water, you will still, eventually, have to come up for air. Parkin takes a mismatched bunch of people, most of whom just happen to be family, and spins a likely love story and an unlikely friendship. Shot through with her now trade-mark observational detail and shifting voices as easily as catching her breath, Parkin is a simple joy to read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2018
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1787198401

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Hiding and surviving is the focus of the story. The family have come to this isolated spot to keep the children's mother safe. Someone is looking for her and she must not be found. Richard, the father, works and Jacob is in school, but Ella and Maggie her mother stay home. Mostly.

One day Ella wanders out while her mother is asleep, braves the cliff-top walk to their neighbour's house and begins an unlikely friendship with the solitary Mrs Armitage. The widow wanted nothing to do with neighbours and children and friendship, but Ella had a way about her.

Then Ella and her mother disappear. It is a stormy night – of course it is – and Maggie has gone out into the storm. Richard goes after her, while Jacob soothes Ella into sleep and believing it will all be ok. In the morning both Ella and Maggie are gone.

Years later: Jacob is a teacher. During term time Mrs Armitage grudgingly honours her offer to help him look after his ailing and often violent father. Ella is a gaping hole in both their lives. Clearly she was more (or has become more in her absence) to Jacob than a beloved little sister. Hints of what lie below the surface whisper from the outset…and then one day a confident young lady with a half-familiar face arrives back in the village…and truths start to emerge.

Telling the tale in fractured memories allows Parkin to share various voices with us…the tiny frightened child, the self-contained warmer-than-she-wants-to-admit widow, the frazzled and lost and lonely Jacob: each of them tortured and also somehow not as innocent as they seem.

Parkin writes in wonderful imagery stolen from close observation. She has the best of the writer's art in making you believe in her people and care what will happen. As with her previous story The Winter's Child, Underwater Breathing follows a well signposted path. There are no pull-you-up-short surprises, but as with the previous book that's irrelevant, you will be drawn in to this world and want these people to survive what's coming…and what's coming, you just know, will be another storm.

Loved it!

FAVOURITE QUOTE: in these days of headline news of the loneliness epidemic, I can't help but single out the following: She suspected very few people had the discipline required to live alone. For her, solitude was like the air she breathed or the water she swam through. I can relate to that!

For more of this author’s wonderful imagery we loved The Winter's Child by Cassandra Parkin or for another tale of the strangeness of families and friendships we can also recommend If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

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Buy Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin at


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