Wednesday 17 March 2021

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller BLOG TOUR @ClaireFuller2 @HannahKSx @PenguinUKBooks #UnsettledGround


Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother's secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

Unsettled Ground is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller is published on 25 March 2021 by Fig Tree and has been long listed for the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review as part of this blog tour.

I have read all of Claire Fuller's novels. She is an outstanding writer, her stories are always just a little bit different from the norm, with characters who are carefully and skilfully created in settings that are always evocative,  and natural.

I was delighted to hear that Unsettled Ground had been long listed for this years Women's Prize for Fiction and will be cheering the author on through that process.

Whilst Unsettled Ground is set in the present day, there's a feeling of the past that runs through it. I was brought up in a small farming village, populated by families that had been there for centuries, who had married each other and who knew everything about each other. It can be a claustrophobic way to live at times, with ears ever to the ground and no deed going unnoticed. There were those 'odd' people in my village; usually unmarried adults who had lived with and cared for elderly parents. Whose own lives had revolved around their mother and father and who seemed to have no identity of their own. Back in the 1970s, we just accepted people like that as part of our village. I rarely saw any teasing, or bullying, maybe a few kids would shout something and run up the street, but on the whole, they were just members of the community, and everyone knew their history.

Julius and Jeanie Seeder; the main characters in this story are just like that. Fifty-one year old twins, they've lived in a run-down cottage with their mother for their entire lives. Their father died suddenly thirty-eight years ago, and that day is engraved in their hearts and on their minds. Their mother Dot dies within the first few pages of this story and it is this tragic event that lays the foundation for this beautifully written and precisely observed novel.

Jeanie's voice is the loudest within the story, and it is she who slowly and painfully begins to realise that Dot had many secrets that she didn't share with her children. Jeanie is delicate, unwell, barely literate, yet she is musically talented, she can grow exquisite garden produce and has an undeniable loyalty to Dot, to Julius and to her dog Maud. Her discoveries about who Dot really was, and in fact, who Jeanie really is are incredibly painful for her to bear, there is a sense of denial that runs throughout the pages, that slowly turns to shock and then to anger. It's is beautifully and subtly done, the author writes with an ease that is startling in its complexities. 

Unsettled Ground is, at the heart, a story about deception and secrets. It is a coming-of-age tale, but features characters who are in their middle-ages, rather than their teens. It is filled with music and bursting with love, and sadness. It is often bleak, with passages that are really quite hard to read, but the magical writing overwhelms the sadness, making it a story that is both compelling, and ultimately satisfying. 

Clever, sharp and irresistible, this is a novel that has to be savoured, it is not a story to rush through. It should be digested and slept on, and then appreciated for the beautifully written book that it is. One of my favourite books of this year so far. 

Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967.
She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have along career in marketing and didn't start writing until she was forty.

She has written three previous novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the Desmond Elliot Prize, Swimming Lessons, which was shortlisted for the RSL Encore Award, and Bitter Orange.

She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband.      Twitter @ClaireFuller2

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