Monday 29 July 2013

The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White

A haunting and beautifully written debut novel by an exciting new talent.

When Betty Gardiner dies, leaving behind an unkempt country home, her grandson and his young wife take a break from city life to prepare the house for sale. Nowell Gardiner leaves first to begin work on his second mystery novel. By the time his wife Vivian joins him, a real mystery has begun: a local girl has been found dead in the woods behind the house. Even after the death is ruled an accident, Vivian can’t forget the girl, can’t ignore the strange behaviour of her neighbours, or her husband. As Vivian attempts to put the house in order, all around her things begin to fall apart.

‘The Qualities of Wood’ is a stunning novel from an exciting new writer. Perfect for readers of Anne Tyler and Anita Shreve.

Vivian and Nowell Gardiner have only been married for four years when Nowell's grandmother dies.  They make the decision that they will give up their regular lives for a while to clean up the house, ready to put it on the market.    Nowell leaves first, Vivian follows on a few weeks later.
For Vivian, this is a huge upheaval; she's given up her job, moved to an unknown town and now has to sort through the clutter and memories of the life of a woman she didn't really know.

When Vivian finds out that a young girl's body has been found on land just outside of their boundary, she finds it a struggle to cope.  The death was ruled an accident, but the behaviour of people around her make her question the truth - how much do people really know about what happened that night?

The Qualities of Wood is about a slow moving, gentle sort of town and the writing is just the same.  Mary Vensel White's strength is in her descriptions - of the numerous characters, and of the small town and it's culture.   Although I didn't particularly like either Vivian or Nowell, there is something about this young couple that entices the reader.  The undercurrents of their relationship are often tense and sometimes a little dark.

Evocative and deep; The Qualities of Wood is an exploration of relationships and passions, of secrets long hidden and reactions.  The story and the characters develop over the length of the novel, and although there are no fast-paced action scenes, or nail-biting excitement, this really is a novel to savour.

The Qualities of Wood is published by The Friday Project - an imprint of Harper Collins  - 25 July 2013.

My thanks to Sabah, as always for sending my copy for review.

Mary Vensel White was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, California.  She graduated from the University of Denver and lived for five years in Chicago, where she completed an MA in English at DePaul University.  Her short fiction has appeared in The Wisconsin Review and Foothills Literary Journal.   The Qualities of Wood is her first novel.
Mary Vensel White currently lives in southern California with her husband and four children.  She is working on another novel set in the Midwest, a place that flourishes in her imagination despite her sunny surroundings, and a collection of inter-related short stories.

For more information about Mary Vensel White and her writing, visit her website    Her Facebook page, the Qualities of Wood Facebook page, or her Twitter feed

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