We have our voice from the borders J.A Warnock reviewing, Sea of Snow by Kerensa Jennings today. A debut novel that was published in March 2017 by Unbound Digital. Also, the paperback edition is out now.
1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Da. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attention wanders to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.
As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.
But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?
Seas of Snow is a haunting, psychological domestic drama that probes the nature and the origins of evil.
usIt would be difficult to describe the cover of Kerensa Jennings debut as inviting. The vicious curved beak of the cawing crow draws the eye as does its incongruous positioning on the edge of a domestic bath. Before turning a single page, there is a fluttering of uncertainty. One is more compelled than invited to proceed.
The opening lines of Seas of Snow tell us in no uncertain terms that something is very wrong in the life of our young protagonist. We dive straight into a stream of teenaged Gracie’s consciousness before picking up the start of her story on page 5. Time is a fluid concept in this book. It is structured so that Jennings can drip feed the story in an order that makes sense rather than from start to finish. It can be annoying and occasionally feels contrived but works well in terms of building curiosity and making the narrative work.
For me, the greatest strength of this novel is the sense of voice Jennings creates for each character. Neither the chapter headings nor any other visual signposts are used to tell the reader the year or give the perspective from which she is writing. She manages to adopt a consistent and identifiable tone that places both the age and name of her narrators. This is exceptionally successful with young Gracie. The precocious certainty of a five year old is captured beautifully and succinctly. The adult characters, while still identifiable, worked less well for me. In particular, Joe where repeated words and phrases (which I am relatively sure were used intentionally to stress the narrow, single, destructive focus of his personality) began to grate and disrupt the flow. If I never hear the phrase ‘pleasure-pain’ again, it will still be too soon.
This sense of voice made the characters feel real and there is a nice distinction drawn between the public and the private self. The smiling face that hides evil and the seemingly aloof persona that is a victim only barely holding life together are stiched cleverly into the story. Jennings reinforces the idea that we should not judge as we very rarely know the full story.
On the whole, I am impressed with this book. It takes an exceptionally difficult subject and somehow makes the story easy to read. The structure draws you in and there are enough humour and innocence to keep you going in the darker passages. It is clear that the author loves language and poetry (there is a little bit of decoding and thinking required on the part of the reader) which makes for an engaging read. Four Stars.
By J A Warnock on behalf of Love Books Group
Thank you, to Kerensa Jennings for our ARC copy and for her patience whilst we reviewed. Also, for the wonderful giveaway prizes.
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