Title The Well
Author Catherine Chanter
Year of publication 2015
Publisher Canongate Books
Ruth Ardingly has just returned to The Well, the place where she will serve out her sentence of house arrest. The place where she came with her husband a few years before with high hopes of building a new life away from Mark’s troubled past in London. But as the drought that has enveloped Britain worsens, The Well seems to be the only place unaffected. The neighbours suspect foul play as The Well’s crops flourish while their lives crumble in the dry ruin of their fields. Ruth becomes isolated and insular as the strain on her relationship with Mark gets worse. She takes solace in The Sister of the Rose, a religious group that has taken up residence in the fields of The Well, led by Sister Amelia who brings Ruth closer to the group of women. Now, as she serves her sentence, she looks back on how her life went from idyllic to tragic and tries to piece together the sequence of events that led to her grandson’s demise. Could she have killed him? Or was there something more sinister at work at The Well?
I was excited about this book when I first picked it up. It seemed like it was going to be a good story, something that would keep you on your toes. I love a book that starts at the end and lets the reader see, little by little, what got the characters to the situations they’ve ended up in. I love a book with twists and unexpected events, and that’s what I was expecting from this book.
To a certain degree, that’s what I got. There were some unexpected turns and surprises and you don’t find out all of the details until the end. But if I’m honest, it all seemed a little bit watered down, like it just wasn’t as strong as it could have been. You learn early on that the grandson has died and that Ruth is suspected of his murder, but she can’t remember what happened to him. She is sure she didn’t do it, but because everyone else believes she did she begins to doubt herself. There is a fantastic scene where she thinks about how it might have happened if she did do it. She goes through exactly what she would have done and how she would have done it. But then it all kind of just fizzles out. I can’t say too much without giving away the ending, but I can say that I just felt that the story was weaker than it could have been. There is nothing wrong with the ending, exactly, it’s satisfying in that you find out what happened to the grandson, you’re not left with any questions. It just wasn’t satisfying in that I didn’t get the cathartic feeling I normally get from a story like this. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happened. I was definitely curious, but my life didn’t depend on knowing the outcome of the story. There’s a few different theories in the book as to who killed the grandson, a couple of which are quite interesting, but the overall ending I found quite disappointing compared to some of the possibilities that were put in front of me. That might just be me though. I’m a bit of a pessimist and I don’t really like happy endings. Having everything tied up in a neat little bow in the end just isn’t very realistic to me, I much prefer an open ending, or an unexpected ending, but that’s just me.
This is Chanter’s debut novel, she was a short story writer up until this point, and I do think that shows. While this is an interesting book I found that I was bored of it halfway through. The story itself could probably have been told in a short story, but it’s dragged out a little longer than it needs to be. Even after you find out what happened to the grandson there are still two chapters to go, which I felt like I was wading through for the sake of it. I already know what happened, the question that was posed at the beginning of the novel has been answered, why do I have to keep reading? I think the main reason for these two chapters is to find out about what happens to Ruth once the events surrounding her grandson’s death come to light, and to find out what happens to the rest of Britain with regards to the drought that has been affecting them for years. It’s all well and good to find out about these things, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care. It got to the point in the book where I was just reading to find out what happened to the grandson, I had no feelings towards the characters, no sympathy or affinity for anyone. I plain and simple, just didn’t care. The drought in Britain bothered me as there was no real explanation for it. I know it seems unlikely, but it’s definitely something that could happen in Britain and I felt that she didn’t explore that enough. I suppose, since we are seeing it from Ruth’s point of view we only see what is going on in The Well. The lack of knowledge about the rest of Britain is showing us Ruth’s isolation in The Well, but I just think that a bit of a back story of the drought would make me care a lot more when it came to the ending.
I know it’s coming across that I didn’t like this book at all, but I did, I swear. Overall it was enjoyable. I would recommend it. The story is set up well, you’re curious from the beginning about what has happened to Ruth and her grandson. But I would say that the ending is maybe not as strong as the beginning lets on. If you read it after this, or have already read it, let me know what you thought, I’d like to know if I’m in the minority with my opinions on it.