Debbie's Reviews > The Earth Hums in B Flat

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
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's review
Apr 15, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: first-reads
Read on April 24, 2010

I was delighted when I was selected to receive a copy of this via the Goodreads 'First Reads' scheme as I regularly take a look at the books available there. Being from North Wales myself, the prospect of reading a story 'in my area' was very appealing, and the storyline summary sounded very ominous and intriguing.

I started, and finished, this book yesterday after enjoying it (quite honestly) more than I thought I would. My favourite genre of books is fantasy, and 'general fiction' has disappointed me greatly the past few times I have attempted to read it. This book is set into three distinct Parts.

I found the book quite difficult to start with, as the first introduction to Gwenni is her soaring into the sky, and listening to the Earth sing. I started to wonder what I was letting myself in for, seeing as this first introduction to Gwenni flying (which is one of the selling points of the synopsis at the back of the book) is a bit hap-hazard and feels like it's just been thrown into the book with little explanation.

Gwenni is a 12 1/2 year old girl when the book begins, and the more I read through the book, I can't help but feel a very naive 12 1/2 year old, sometimes to the point of not quite being realistic. On saying that, the author does a superb job of narrating the story from Gwenni's point of view in a language that is very realistically from a 'soon to be' innocent teenager (i.e. the references to not liking boys, her best friends, the way she tells her Mam rumours that been told to her, etc.

The relationships that Gwenni has with the other characters in the village (all of which, I might add, feel like genuinely necessary characters in the book, not just characters put in for story padding) are believable, open, and honest. Gwenni clearly has great affection for the people in her life and her local area. On hearing rumours about her local people (family and villagers), and disturbances that go on, because of her innocence and childhood, she can't quite piece together in her own mind why the relationships of people in the village are so complicated.

Having been quite concerned about where the storyline was going when Gwenni turns to the New Testament to try and find answers to her questions, I was very glad that the book didn't go down the 'religion solves all answers' route that it could have taken at that point. I was very pleased that the author didn't have that viewpoint within the book, regardless of her personal views on religion.

As the storyline progresses (from the start of Part 2), Gwenni becomes more and more isolated from her family, and friends. Her sister and best friend (both older than Gwenni) start to discover boys, her mother (Mam) suffers with her nerves more and more, and her placid father (Tada) seems to do everything in his power to continue to hold it all together.

From this part of the book, you begin to realise how mis-treated Gwenni is starting to be at home. It is almost as though her Mam deliberately makes her food she won't eat, and she speaks down to Gwenni all the time even when she's done nothing wrong.

It is only as the story unfolds you begin to understand why her Mam behaves in this way, and why Tada puts up with it. On saying that, even when you find out the reasoning behind it, it still doesn't make Mam's behaviour 'acceptable', especially after the biggest family revelation is revealed. If anything, it could be said her mental/nervous disposition were brought on by her own doing. (Side note: the book does eventually say the the mental/nervous disposition could be hereditary, however this still didn't make me feel any more sympathy for Mam's character due to her actions before she started to get unwell).

As the book enters Part 3, because of all the disquiet that has happened within the village, you see the children start to grow up, and become more openly inquisitive about major issues: life, death, religion, suicide, friendship, etc. You start to see that the childish issues that seemed to matter to them before seem to be become less and less important when they begin to understand what is precious in their own lives.

As the book comes to a close, I still feel a little concerned or confused about a couple of issues:
1) Gwenni's flying.
2) Tada's view about his family.

To have included Gwenni's ability to fly within the initial synopsis on the back of the book, I would have thought it would have played more of a major role, or at least a sensible one within the book. Gwenni can't actually fly at all, it's just her take on what happens when she dreams. I also don't understand the 'Earth's song' as that's never explained within the book. What is it supposed to be if flying is a metaphor for dreaming??

The relationship with Tada to the family confuses me the most. I can't understand why Tada was still so besotted with Mam that he stands by her despite treating him like he's nothing to her. Especially so since he doesn't find out exactly why she is the way she is until the very end of the book. I know the expression 'love conquers all', but this just seemed a little unrealistic. He must have the patience of a saint to be so calm and neutral all of the time.

Overall, these two points where my only issues with the book. I really loved the storyline and narration. It was solid, interesting, harrowing, unnerving.. a whole mix of things. This wasn't like any book that I have read previously. It's unsympathetic nature towards some of the issues raised is a harsh yet honest reflection of the difficult and complex world we live in.

I would recommend this book, but really feel that it didn't need the 'flying' element in it at all. It just made it very unbelievable, and the storyline was already solid enough without this seemingly just 'quirky' addition to the book.

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Reading Progress

04/24/2010 page 71
04/24/2010 page 336
100% "Too late in the day now for a review, so will write one tomorrow. Thoroughly enjoyed the book though."
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