‘A Year of Marvellous Ways’ by Sarah Winman

A Year of Marvellous WaysstarstarSeveral book groups in the borough were given free copies of this new book and invited to a promotional evening with the author. I never read her previous bestseller When God was a Rabbit–I remember trying, but I couldn’t get into it. It’s probably just me, because both of these books are bestsellers and enjoy very favourable reviews.

Marvellous herself is a most interesting character, something like an earthy fairy godmother who lives in a caravan, regularly swims nude in the river, and has a mermaid for a mother. Drake is the shell shocked broken young man who comes to her healing ways because of a promise to a dying soldier.

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. Some reviewers say they found it magical, poetic, lyrical and wise, but that part didn’t work for me because what I encountered was rather cliché like “she died of a broken heart” or “he could say nothing because his heart was in his mouth.” It’s more like a dreamy reading experience than a novel and it left me feeling slightly disoriented. Some say it represented Cornwall quite poignantly, but again, it did not evoke my experience with the area which is not limited. If it wasn’t for this being a group assignment, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

However, at the same time, I didn’t dislike it either. The characters were well described and it was easy to enjoy tactile pleasures like wafting smells of fresh bread from the bakehouse (even if each loaf was different because the baker had been instructed to include her emotions as secret ingredients)! I’m not against magical prose, but there is a fine line between something that we are touched by and willing to suspend disbelief over, and something that’s just too quirky to work.

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