Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean @willrdean #TheLastThingToBurn @HodderBooks @JennyPlatt90 #BookReview


Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn't like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting . . .

The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean is published by Hodder and Stoughton on 7 January 2021. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I have often seen, in various online book groups, readers say that they always read the final pages of a book before the end. They say they do this to ensure that the characters are OK. This has always felt so alien to me. I have been reading novels for fifty years and can honestly say that I have never done that.
The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean is the first book that made me want to skip to the end, read the final pages and then go back and continue. There were times whilst reading that I became so emotionally involved with the characters that could hardly bear to think of how this might end. I didn't do it reader, and I'm glad that I didn't do it. 

Will Dean is well known for his Tuva series, set in Sweden, and it is his incredible talent for setting and location that has always impressed me.  In The Last Thing To Burn, the reader is taken far from Sweden and put firmly into the heartland of the English Fenlands. Dean grew up in the East Midlands, not far from where I live and his utter brilliance in portraying the bleak and desolate countryside that surrounds me is second to none. The sense of place is incredible and adds such depth to what has to be one of the best books that I've ever read. 

Jane and Lenn live on a farm in the midst of the Fens. When Jane looks out across the fields, she can see six spires in the distance in one direction and three wind turbines in the other. However, Jane hasn't left the farm since the day she arrived over six years ago ... and her name isn't Jane. 

Jane is a prisoner on the farm. She arrived, after travelling across the world in the back of a container lorry to start a new life, to earn money to send home to her family in Vietnam, to have adventures in the brave new world. Instead, she and her sister were sold to a farmer. After a few months of hard work and little pay, her sister was taken away. Jane hasn't seen her again, she just has a bundle of letters from her, written from Manchester and detailing her work in a nail bar. 

That bundle of letters is one of seventeen personal belongings that Jane owned, and as the novel opens there are only four of these left. Every time that Jane does something that Lenn has forbidden, be it to attempt to prise open the locked telephone box or let the Rayburn go out, one of her possessions is burnt. Shoved into the hungry mouth of the Rayburn and turned to ashes that will go on the ash pile at the back of the house. 

Will Dean has created a terrifying villain in Lenn. An abrupt man, obsessed with his late mother and how she ran a household, he treats Jane as a personal possession. She is not a wife, or even a human in Lenn's eyes, she is an object that he owns, that he treats exactly as he wants to, and he does. 

Jane struggles to walk. Her ankle and foot are damaged, probably beyond repair. Lenn made sure that she would never walk properly again, and  without the daily dose of horse pills that he doles out from the large glass jar on the shelf, she wouldn't get through each day. 

Life changes for this couple unexpectedly, and whilst Jane's meagre belongings are gradually burnt, she begins to change a little inside. She has a slight hope about her future, but has no idea exactly how she will achieve it. 

I cannot express quite how much this book has affected me. Whilst it is, without doubt, a thriller, it is also a beautifully written, chilling and tense story of utter despair and the total depravity of humankind. Lenn is a brutal man who thinks nothing of inflicting damage upon Jane, yet there's a tiny flicker of something else that just peeps through his hard exterior at times. 
Will Dean's ability to express the feelings and thoughts of a woman who is determined to survive is just out of this world. I breathed very breath with Jane, I hoped every hope and I felt every ounce of pain and fear that she felt.

At times it's almost unbearable, yet is is impossible to stop reading. I just couldn't let go of Jane, I have never felt such hate for a fictional character as I felt for Lenn, but I wanted to know more about him, he's a compulsive character.

An extraordinary book. One that will haunt me for a very long time. A masterpiece. 

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen.
After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. 

He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it's from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.

Twitter @willrdean

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