Source: Review copy
Publication: 7th January 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
Such was my keenness to read Will Dean’s stand-alone, I came to this book without even reading the blurb – which, as it turns out, was the perfect way to approach it, so I have omitted the publisher’s blurb and I’m going to work hard not to give too much away.
This is the story of a woman whom we will not call Jane. She is a woman in the most awful circumstances and the story Will Dean tells is told entirely in her voice. It is a story that I did not want to hear, but could not draw back from and is more compelling for that. It is certainly a story that sadly carries far more resonance that we should be comfortable with in our ‘free’ society.
From the start Dean’s writing grasps your attention. This woman’s voice is stark and compelling; her situation is heart-breaking and her spirit, though diminished, still manages to keep her going, spurred on by thoughts of others. She is at once fragile and yet determined.
The sense of place – an open, desolate countryside – adds to a story of isolation and disconnection and contrasts perfectly with the stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere indoors. Chilling, with a tension so taut you can almost touch it; there are strange moments in this story where you feel a connection between the two main characters and want to turn away from what that might mean.
Reading it is an intense experience, both emotional and utterly captivating. Though the woman’s voice and experience is what engages and fixes the attention, this is not a book about one woman, it is about two people and one of the real achievements of this book is that the other person comes across as a fully formed character, the language and actions telling you all you need to know about his upbringing attitudes and life experience.
Writing like this is special. It is spare and yet it conveys so much. The story is a simple one, yet the layers are there to be peeled back. You think there can be no surprises, but you’d be wrong. Though this is a dark, bleak book it ultimately turns out to be the most inspiring of stories – one that shows us how even in the depth of misery, the human spirit can prevail.
Verdict: This book is a triumph. Beautifully written with depth, power and an intense, emotional engagement it sears through you, engaging, captivating and holding you in its thrall until you can’t look away. I don’t think I have ever wanted a character to succeed more. In these Co-vid days it makes the need for human warmth so poignant and to stand out as the most important thing you will ever need. Buy this book. I have.
Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the GuardianNot the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. The second Tuva Moodyson mystery, Red Snow, was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019. The Last Thing to Burn is his first standalone novel and his first book with Hodder