The Sunday Salon & Review: The Earth Hums in B Flat, by Mari Strachan

Happy Sunday!  This week brought a welcome break from the incessant heat, which should have re-energized me, but instead I’m feeling very lazy.  I’ve consumed plenty of coffee, hoping that will help me get going because there are several things I “should” do today.  I am almost afraid to look at my vegetable garden, because it’s probably exploding with ripe tomatoes in need of canning.   I love being able to cook with garden tomatoes throughout the winter, but canning is a bit of a project.  So I’m trying to get motivated, and I’d really rather chat about books, so here I am!

This week I read two books.  The first was The Boy Next Door, Irene Sabatini’s debut novel (read my review).  As Sabatini wrote about a family caught up in Zimbabwe’s political turmoil in the 1980s, I was reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, one of my all-time favorite books (read my review).  Sabatini won the 2010 Orange Prize Award for New Writers, and I suspect she has a long and successful career ahead of her.

My second book this week was The Earth Hums in B Flat, by Mari Strachan.  This book caught my eye when it was reviewed in the first issue of Belletrista, and I’m so glad to have read it.  Read on for my review …

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Gwenni Morgan is 13 and lives in a small Welsh town with her parents and older sister.  She is intelligent, with an active imagination, believing she can fly as she sleeps.  One morning, Gwenni is supposed to babysit Catrin and Angharad Evans while their mother Elin visits the dentist.  When she arrives, she finds the family in a kind of contained chaos.  Later she learns that Elin’s husband Ifan has disappeared.  Gwenni struggles to make sense of the situation; adult attempts to restrain her only inspire her to step up her investigation.

Meanwhile, Gwenni faces the typical problems of a 13-year-old girl.  Her best friend Arwenna is maturing faster than she is; Arwenna’s mercurial approach to their friendship catches Gwenni off guard.  Arwenna is also a gossip, sharing tidbits gleaned from her mother that fuel Gwenni’s already active imagination, but often represent only parts of a puzzle.  And Gwenni has conflicted feelings about her mother Magda.   Magda is unstable, behaves erratically, and disapproves of almost everyone else — including Elin Evans, whom Gwenni worships.

The story is told entirely from Gwenni’s point of view.  As a result important context is missing, details go unnoticed, and the truth is elusive.  This brings an element of suspense, because as an adult reader you know there’s more to the story.  Gradually,  Gwenni learns about the complex set of connections that shaped her life, and the reasons for Ifan’s disappearance.  The story builds to an intense climax, requiring Gwenni and her family to deal with searingly painful, life-changing truths.  This is a memorable story with memorable characters, that will linger in my mind for some time.

This book was also reviewed in Belletrista, Issue 1

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Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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2 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon & Review: The Earth Hums in B Flat, by Mari Strachan

  1. As summer reaches its end, I imagine you are much deserving of some lazy days, Laura. The Boy Next Door sounds like something I would really like. It sort of reminds me of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, a book I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t gotten to yet.

    Mari Strachan’s novel also sounds like a good one–the narrative voice especially intrigues me. Another one to add to my wish list.

    I hope you have a great week, Laura!

    • Wendy, I read Fuller’s book ages ago; as I recall it was very much from a white perspective while Sabatini’s book is not. It would be interesting to compare & contrast the two!

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