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What Willow Says

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Sharing stories of myths, legends and ancient bogs, a deaf child and her grandmother experiment with the lyrical beauty of sign language. Learning to communicate through their shared love of trees they find solace in the shapes and susurrations of leaves in the wind.

A poignant tale of family bonding and the quiet acceptance of change.

118 pages, Paperback

First published May 27, 2021

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Lynn Buckle

2 books9 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 34 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
March 15, 2022
This is a short book that is brimming with beautiful writing, with a devout reverence for nature - the water, the bogs, the dearest frogs and most markedly, the trees and a longing for the sounds of the trees . It is filled with deep respect for the folklore of this Irish locale, warning of danger and death, telling of life and beauty. At its core is the bond forever forged with love and understanding between a grandmother and her eight year old deaf granddaughter.

Unnamed characters most times keep me distanced but not here - at all. These beautiful characters instilled in me a longing for the sounds of the trees, for what the willow says. Stunningly and achingly beautiful.

Thanks to my GR friend Jodi whose review brought this book to my attention.

Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,206 followers
February 12, 2022

Winner of the Barbellion Prize

Entry No: 1 Wind: force 0 to 7 in ten seconds
Weather: fine, dry, which is a jubilant sign
Outlook: good

We struggle to hear in our household. Age, degeneration, aural complications and congenital conditions. Ignorance. We have confusing discussions, mistaken arrangements, and fights over hearing aid batteries. Plus, the convenience of not hearing when it suits us. Now we are trying to listen, to each other, and to trees. There is so much that we have never heard, so little time to hear it. This much is true.

What Willow Says, published by small indy époque press, is the Winner in the 2nd year of the Barbellion Prize:

A book prize dedicated to the furtherance of ill and disabled voices in writing. The prize is awarded annually to an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness and/or disability.

The awarded work can be of any genre in fiction, memoir, biography, poetry, or critical non-fiction from around the world - whether it is in English, in translation, traditionally published, or self-published.

The prize is named in tribute to English diarist W.N.P. Barbellion, who wrote eloquently on his life with multiple sclerosis (MS) before his death in 1919.

It was also previously highlighted as one of the best books of 2021 by two critics whose opinions I strongly respect.

In the Irish Times Books of the Year from writers and critics, author Rónán Hession states "In a strong year for Irish writing, the standout was the poetic What Willow Says, by Lynn Buckle."

And one of my favourite book bloggers, Robert Pisani, picked the novel as his overall #1 choice for books published in 2021, stating

The second I finished What Willow Says, I was stunned. The writing is so beautiful, I was speechless. It’s a tender story full of warmth. As a plot it’s an interesting one:

A grandmother has to look after her mute granddaughter. Thus communication is difficult. They do have one thing in common and that’s nature, made even more interesting because the grandmother finds ways to fuse it with Irish mythology. At the same time she’s compiling a list of the species of trees one finds in Ireland.

Everything about the novel is great: the grandmother/granddaughter relationship, the use of Irish lore, the descriptions of nature. It just works in every single way. Poignant, touching and memorable. When a book affects like this, it HAS to be number one. My review

As Robert's comments suggest this is a beautifully written and moving novel. A grandmother bonds with her deaf 8yo granddaughter after the loss of her daughter, the girls's mother, over a shared love of trees, and the girl's desire to understand, through her grandmother, their language:

I want to find the stridulations which she imagines, the psithurisms of rustling leaves, their sighs and modulations. If they have them.

The story is told in a series of 29 diary entries, the first of which is key.

Language is key to the novel, the two communicating through sign language, both official (in which the granddaughter is fluent and the grandmother barely literate) and their own invented signs, through English and Irish language and English and Ogham writing systems, through touch and vibration, lip-reading and their familial bond.

I am learning to read her signs, signals, body movements, eyes, and gaps in between all of these. Sign language being the least, it seems, of her many languages. I am not a slow learner. Although fifty years her senior I am quite able, within the tyranny of hearing, to communicate. It is just so difficult.

She is throwing silent shapes, drawing names for them in the air, her hand movements so much more descriptive than the words we share. Inventions borne of observations. She already knows the slow, steadfast way an oak tree grows or how eucalyptus rushes to the sky in the fight for light, how aspen quivers, and ivy gropes. Our vocabulary expands, at her invention, our very own sign language. I should not build confusion, should adhere to official Irish Sign Language, should be one step ahead, should facilitate standardisation. I don’t. She is too beautiful to correct, so we adopt her signs and save learning conventions for later.

The descriptions of the trees are poetic and respectful, at times anthropomorphic, with the author explaining in an interview:

I am also indebted to Dr Suzanne Simard’s research on trees, as were Richard Powers, Peter Wohlleben, and the many other authors who drew upon her work to write about the natural world

This when the grandmother first tries to listen to the willow tree in her garden - the girl’s communication sign in italics in the text:

It is easier for me to stay quiet. I do not know how to talk.

‘W.I.L.L.O.W.,’ I spell on my fingers.

what sound?

‘I will listen, then tell you what sounds they are making.’

The word itself, or what the tree sounds like? I cannot describe either sound. I could tell her Latin names, look up etymology, show entries in the dictionary and thesaurus, practice writing willow in different fonts in pen and ink and dip a brush into Chinese calligraphy. This is not what she wants. Nor does she want those pencil drawings, the series of tree drawings going back forty years. It is easier to give her all these than to listen to needs, to losses, to listen.
My willows are now twice my height. They wave in the barest of gusts, fail to grow densely, and reduce to spindly messes in winter. I never listened to their year- round chatter, when drawing confined observations to visual rhythms. All those years studying their structures, weights, and textures while missing their inherent languages. I do not know what the breeze brings through them or how their sounds differ to the giant trees growing out front, across the river. They may resent being fenced in a line, pruned severely, thrice yearly, accommodating my garden designs. They do not fulfil their purpose; of screening us from neighbours.

She asks of them directly, what they say.

They reply, with the slightest vibration, not even a hum, so hard to detect even with my ears. I try but the wind is slow to oblige, holding its breath. Not even a delicate branch wave. I must sneak up when the wind is blowing, giving voice. All I get is the dry rustle of summered leaves brushing against my sleeve, looking for the point of our conversation.


And the novel also covers, but not didactically themes of albeism and sexism, as well as threading Irish myth throughout.

The author has written about her own experiences here.

Powerful and moving - 4.5 stars which I will round to 5.

what do the willows say? I ask, and watch my shiny children dancing in aquamarine.

The willows sign and sway and sing about love but you don’t need ears to hear the trees, you only need to listen
Profile Image for Paul.
1,178 reviews1,935 followers
August 19, 2022
“Sometimes there is no one so deaf as a hearing person”
“We struggle to hear in our household. Age, degeneration, aural complications and congenital conditions. Ignorance. We have confusing discussions, mistaken arrangements, and fights over hearing aid batteries. Plus, the convenience of not hearing when it suits us. Now we are trying to listen, to each other, and to trees. There is so much that we have never heard, so little time to hear it.”
Despite the naff title this is a great book. It’s a novel in the form of journal entries. The voice we hear is that of a grandmother. Following the death of her daughter she is bringing up her profoundly deaf granddaughter. Buckle is a member of the deaf community and knows of what she writes. The setting is the middle part of Ireland, the Bog of Allen. The novel is steeped in the myth, legends and folklore of the area. The novel won the Barbellion Prize in 2021. I must admit I hadn’t heard of this prize. It was only set up in 2020 and it is dedicated to the furtherance of ill and disabled voices in writing.
The pace is generally slow and there is a lyrical and poetic feel to it. Communication and understanding are at the centre as the granddaughter learns sign language, something the grandmother is also trying to learn. They also have their own methods of signing and communicating, peculiar to them. Grandmother is working on a project “A Compendium of Native & Non-Native Trees of Ireland”, which is an illustrative guide rather than a field guide and entails a good deal of drawing. Granddaughter has a metal detector and is doing a few little projects of her own. There are discussions on reflections about how and whether trees communicate: if so, what sort of sounds/vibrations do they make:
“All those years studying their structures, weights, and textures while missing their inherent languages. I do not know what the breeze brings through them or how their sounds differ”
There is a vein of sadness running through it, to say more would be to give things away. There are struggles with the hearing world and with authorities, but it is the relationship with nature and folklore which captivates.
“She makes our sign for garden willows, expects me to follow her and translate their jostling. Perhaps they are out of my frequency. Or quietude is their preserve. Their personality is not consistent with their messy appearance. They have grown vigorously, and there is ample for harvesting. I cut a handful to show her how their shoots can be woven, bent into slaths and built upon to create something useful like baskets or wicker fences. I strip bark from a pliant length of willow, as I tell of female strength weaving itself into basketry. Of generations tying-in their first star which holds our creation together, s we thread between spokes, my hand guiding hers, under and over and round and round. How wicker needs love and stores it for years to come. We bend the ribs up-setting the basket, to create the twelve mother goddesses. Here is Danu of the Tuatha Da Danaan and Boinn of the rivers, there stands Brigid of Imbolc, of Samhain, of all the solstices and equinoxes bringing us circles and cycles of life.”
It is a very moving novel which addresses real issues of communication, love and loss: a real find.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
December 16, 2021
The Mookse group is currently running its end of year rankings, and this book was nominated by Robert, so thanks to him for drawing it to my attention. I have been rather neglecting époque Press since reading their first book El Hacho a couple of years ago, but this book is just as impressive. It is another evocative short book very strong on atmosphere.

The story takes the form of a journal, kept by a grandmother who has been left in charge of her profoundly deaf granddaughter after her daughter’s early death. The pair learn to communicate, and share a love of nature and particularly trees. Each “chapter” is preceded by observations on wind, weather and “Outlook”, the latter starts off weather related but ranges into more personal territory, especially once the narrator becomes aware she is terminally ill.

The language is spare, precise and poetic, and the nature writing and the descriptions of sign language and handling deafness are very powerful. A beautiful book, well worth seeking out.
Profile Image for Alwynne.
585 reviews593 followers
March 6, 2023
Irish writer Lynn Buckle’s award-winning story of a relationship between a grandmother and her orphaned, Deaf granddaughter is an “own voices” novel building on aspects of the author’s personal experience. In dense, lyrical, often elliptical prose, Buckle carefully weaves together elements of Irish folklore, the language of trees, and the challenges of her characters’ everyday. There are some marvellous descriptions here, particularly when it comes to Irish mythology and the lore of trees, yet somehow I was never as engaged by this as I felt I should be. I think, perhaps, my issue was with just how much Buckle is trying to pack into a comparatively short piece.

Structured as a kind of diary that the grandmother’s writing for the child she knows she’ll soon be forced to leave behind, its multiple, overlapping strands could sometimes be distracting, making it difficult to fathom what exactly it was that Buckle wanted her readers to take from her story. At various points she’s caught up in an exploration of trauma triggered by lingering grief and loss; the impact of the anticipation of death; the challenges faced by Deaf individuals faced with a health service that neither acknowledges or understands the complex politics or realities of Deaf communities; encroaching climate change and the official policies that contribute to it; not to mention Irish identity and history. There’s also a slightly awkward, mystical subtext that I couldn’t really relate to. All of which made me realise why, for me, “less is more” is still a useful maxim to keep in mind. That said, at the numerous points where everything comes together this could be incredibly moving and powerful and, overall, it’s a book I’m more than happy to have read.
Profile Image for Jodi.
357 reviews80 followers
March 15, 2022
What Willow Says is full of beautiful prose. We have a precocious 8-year-old girl who is deaf. Her mother has recently passed so she's now living with her maternal grandmother. (Again, in this book, very few people have a name.) Grandmother (GM) does not know sign language and thus cannot communicate well with Granddaughter (GD). She has her fitted for hearing aids, but the girl doesn't like them—constantly wants to take them out. She wants GM to learn sign language, and she tries, but she now has an app on her cell phone to help. As they spend more and more time together, the child does the teaching—some signs are real, some they've made up—and slowly they begin to communicate in their own way. GM studies and draws trees, always carrying a sketchbook filled with pages and pages of drawings. As they wander through the woods, along the river, and within their small community, GD wants to know what the trees say to one another, what the mushrooms are saying, how the frogs speak. Because everything communicates.

GM lost her husband and then her daughter who she especially misses so much; she wishes they'd had more time. And now she learns that she, too, is dying, but this she keeps to herself. As they explore, GD wants to hear stories about when her mother was young, so GM relates tales of their explorations which delight the girl.

For a while, GM's two remaining daughters visit—hopefully one of them will adopt Willow after GM passes. One is from Canada; the other from within Britain. Willow seems to like them. Soon, though, GM becomes frustrated, and frequently wants to cry. She's lost the energy to do much of anything. GD seems to understand that GM will leave soon, and GM uses a trees analogy to attempt to explain:
Granddaughter is crying. they have no big trees to look after them ‘They have each other.’ too small ‘You’d be surprised. It’s horrible at first but it works.’ I don’t want to be like that ‘Aunt trees will be planted. Two for every one that is new. Quick-growing silvery birches will shadow them, wash them in the sound of water and that’s when you’ll know the grandmother trees are helping. Their roots are still in the ground, reaching and touching saplings.’ I don’t know if they can put up with it ‘You will,’ I squeeze her hand.
Indeed she will.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews637 followers
January 25, 2022
At the time I write this, this book on Goodreads has 17 reviews. Two are by “Goodreads friends” and one by a person I follow. All three of those people have given it 5 stars. Having seen that and having also seen that it contains a lot of nature writing (I supplement my pension with a small nature photography business), I was keen to take a look.

Surely that meagre 17 reviews has to change soon?

In an interview, Lynn Buckle describes her book like this: “It is a celebration of nature, deafness, communication, languages, and familial love.”

And it’s hard to improve on that as a review.

The book takes the form of journal entries by a grandmother who cares for her deaf granddaughter. The two of them spend a lot of time outside exploring nature, especially trees. I am very fond of trees. One thing I noticed is that the author uses quite a lot of old/obscure words when writing about trees and this has the effect of making the narrative sound old like the trees. But don’t get me wrong: by ‘old’ I do not mean fusty or old-fashioned, I mean more to try to give the impression of the ancientness of trees of their grounding in the earth etc.. It’s very effective even if I did have to use the dictionary several times as I read. In another interview, the author comments on her debt to the work of Dr Suzanne Simard who wrote about her research into trees and whose work, as Buckle also comments, is now influencing several different authors including Richard Powers (a personal favourite of mine). This kind of idea is something Gumble’s Yard mentioned to me when we both read (me because of his review) the book “Entangled Life” about fungi: some of the amazing things about nature are slowly but surely leaking over into novel writing.

I really enjoyed the nature writing here, not just because it is interesting but because it is beautifully and sensitively written.

The granddaughter in the story is deaf. In the UK, a large number of us learned a lot about deafness late last year when Rose Ayling-Ellis took part in Strictly Come Dancing. Rose is also profoundly deaf but (spoiler alert) ended up winning this dancing competition. Which, when you think about it, is quite remarkable. A large part of Rose’s success was down to her infectious personality and her excitement communicated via sign language. I read that applications to sign up (if you’ll pardon the pun) for sign language courses increased by over 400% during Rose’s time on the TV show. And you have to hope that a book like the one Lynn Buckle has written here will also open people’s eyes (or ears) to the world in which deaf people live.

So, read this to enjoy beautiful writing about nature. Read this to see a deaf girl living in a world built for hearing people but without bitterness (Rose was the same). And read this to see a loving relationship between grandmother and granddaughter, even if grandmother has a secret.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,894 reviews218 followers
January 2, 2022
At the heart of this novel is the relationship between a grandmother and her deaf granddaughter. The grandmother is the primary caregiver after the death of her daughter. It is told through a series of journal entries. The reader is aware of the grandmother’s health problem, which she hides from her granddaughter.

It is an examination of the various ways in which we communicate, not solely by language, hearing, seeing, or signing. The child and her grandmother share a love of nature, especially trees, frogs, and waters. They find that nature can assist in communication. The grandmother passes down Irish myths and legends. There is a beautiful artistry in this novella.

“We had tried explaining to the specialist her many ways of listening and talking. How arms become branches and dance to her emotions, and how trees copy these and all the ways we communicate, making-up our own signals and conversations. That what she has is beautiful.”

The storyline is slim, and we do not find out much about their backgrounds or what may happen in the future. It is an emotional read. Be prepared for lots of sadness. It will particularly appeal to those who enjoy richly descriptive and lyrical prose. The sentences contain an internal rhythm, creating both poetry and atmosphere. For instance, listen for the “s” sounds in this section:

“And so it is, on one of these mushroom-smelling evenings, at the time of Samhain and of All Hallows when the dead are remembered, that we join the rest of the village for our annual bonfire, to disguise the dark soundless night with a community of noises. Such gatherings are difficult for both of us, when background sounds of crowds distort everything heard and it is impossible to distinguish words. But now we are armed with sign language.”
Profile Image for Don Jimmy Reviews.
653 reviews24 followers
May 20, 2021
My oh my I really am struggling to put my thoughts together for this one. This is a short and sweet tale, that much like a forest stream, has hidden depths. Looking beyond it’s 130 or so page count we have a book filled with hidden messages conveyed in other ways, as our characters have to portray themselves through sign language.

Lynn Buckle has a way with words that is rarely seen, and does with one paragraph what some authors will do with pages and pages of text. Here we have a story about a deaf child and her grandmother and how they learn to communicate through sign and nature. Through the novel they take a journey and build their relationship. While we don’t get the full story of how they have got to where they are, there are plenty of nods to where their relationship is headed.

This was a beautiful story, and I enjoyed every minute. I look forward to reading more from the author.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,997 reviews195 followers
June 3, 2021
One of the best feelings is reading a novel that has a high aesthetic factor. Passage after passage of haunting language unfurling right in front of you. Pure beauty on each page, each sentence luring you into it’s world. Such are the emotions encapsulated in Lynn Buckle’s What Willow Says.

The book is told from the point of view of a grandmother and her deaf granddaughter. The latter can only communicate through sign language. As the grandmother cannot fully grasp this, she tries an alternate form of communication and that is through nature, in which she infuses mythological creatures found in Irish lore. In the meantime she is creating a compendium of trees that are found in Ireland.

Language plays an important part in the novel, or rather silent language. Both sign language and the language of the trees cannot be heard and yet, as the grandmother observes they can me noisy in their own way. At some junctures, the granddaughter uses sign language furiously and the grandmother feels their power. Throughout the book the granddaughter is offered a cochlear implant but she refuses because she knows that the quiet power she has will be lost.

Loss and suffering occur as well. The grandmother drops hints of some of the losses she has experienced and it seems to stem from the natural world. It could be that whenever she is teaching her granddaughter to swim or bonding of trees and mythology, she is gaining the upper hand on nature which caused emptiness in her life.

What Willow Says is an indescribably beautiful novel. While reading the book, a wide range of emotions were experienced. The book is personal and I did, at times, feel like I was prying into someone’s world. Despite the intensity of the prose, the novel never feels exhaustive. In fact there was something oddly cathartic in reading the grandmother describe her ways of defeating her inability to understand a language that was foreign to her. I’m sure at times we feel this sort of loss when comforted with obstacles and we have to find ways around. In the grandmother’s case, nature is her solution.

Clever, Poignant and moving, What Willow Says is one of those books that will leave an impact on anyone who reads it. It is rare to find a book which goes for the brain and the heart at the same time and can leave such profound feelings afterwards.
Profile Image for Ryan Dennis.
Author 1 book22 followers
May 20, 2021
Buckle demonstrates her abilities as a writer in creating a character with just as strong of a voice as those in her first novel, The Groundsmen, but this time steeps her powerful prose in tenderness and intimacy (without being the least bit sentimental). It's quite an achievement, and well worth the read.
Profile Image for WndyJW.
608 reviews99 followers
January 10, 2022
A widow of a beloved husband and mother of daughters deceased and living, is raising her deaf 8 year old granddaughter. Using their own created sign language the grandmother shares with Granddaughter the ancient Irish myths of strong women, lines of mothers, daughters, and sisters, and their own family stories while immersing Granddaughter in the natural world of their environs: the bogs and rivers, the oaks, pines, and willow trees, as well as the wildlife, the grandmother tries to show Granddaughter that bonds of love and connections of the living and the dead endure through change, trying to prepare them both for a painful change yet to come.

Rich in symbolism, myth, memory and love, this poetic book had me in tears. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Alan Teder.
1,987 reviews103 followers
June 25, 2021
June 25, 2021 Update A current article by author Lynn Buckle is very relevant background for this novel. See The Last Sounds, how writing my novel helped me accept my own deafness at the Irish Times June 25, 2021.

I don't usually totally spoiler block my reviews, but I found that I couldn't write about this book without discussing what is a key dramatic element which did dominate a lot of my feelings about it due to some of my own recent personal experiences. But I don't go into a lot of detail about it.

Some Mysteries
Not everything is answered and not all things are explained, but there is enough information for you to search further on your own if interested. There is an element of mythology in the regular references to Irish legends and supernatural beings, usually in their Irish-Gaelic names which may require some googling for the non-Irish. A few GPS coordinates are stated as well, although they didn't provide much further information for me, one was a dead end road and the other an off-road site. The Latin chant of St. Venantius Crux Fidelis (O Faithful Tree) is presented in a monophonic score excerpt.
There are some rather wonderful definitions that you'll discover when you look up words such as:
embrogenous = plants able to flourish in wet conditions.
stridulation = the sound of rubbing body parts together esp. those of insects.
psithurism = the rustling sounds of tree leaves.
susurration = whispering, murmuring or rustling.
You should also take the time to learn what a soft day means in Ireland.

I read What Willow Says as a follow-up to reading two previous excellent books from époque press which were Craig Jordan-Baker's The Nacullians and Ryan Dennis' The Beasts They Turned Away. This is definitely a publisher to watch, for its very unique list.

Other Reviews
Book Review: What Willow Says by Jackie Law at NeverImitate, May 26, 2021.
What Willow Says by Lynn Buckle by Stephanie Jane at Literary Flits, May 27, 2021.
Book Review: A deeply affecting love song to the bogs by Estelle Birdy at Independent.ie, March 28, 2021.
Shawn the Book Maniac reviews the Irish novella What Willow Says by Lynn Buckle by Shawn the Book Maniac on YouTube, May 27, 2021.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,575 followers
January 26, 2022
This is a delicate novella about the bond between a grandmother and her eight-year-old granddaughter, who is deaf. After the death of the girl’s mother, Grandmother has been her primary guardian. She raises her on Irish legends and a love of nature, especially their local trees. They mourn when they see hedgerows needlessly flailed, and the girl often asks what her grandmother hears the trees saying. Because Grandmother narrates in the form of journal entries, there is dramatic irony between what readers learn and what she is not telling the little girl; we ache to think about what might happen for her in the future.

Yet Buckle takes care not to let the mood get too sombre, even though there is disquiet aplenty: empty housing blocks from the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger, rage at the stereotypes and ableism that the granddaughter faces, and the darkness of the myths surrounding the peat bogs and those who drown. This is mostly thanks to the lyrical writing wrapped around the six months or so of the action. Focusing on the relationship between these two, a lot of what happens is quiet and seasonal, from a picnic in the park to preparations for Christmas, but there is also a sign language class that introduces some other characters.

At points I found the prose too thick – it’s rare for me to come across vocabulary I don’t know and, especially in such a short book, terms like “ombrogenous mires,” “chironomy” and “sestude” stood out, not necessarily in a good way. But, overall, I enjoyed this study of other forms of communication – with hands, in writing, between humans and more-than-human nature, and perhaps even beyond the grave.

A favourite passage:
We struggle to hear in our household. Age, degeneration, aural complications and congenital conditions. Ignorance. We have confusing discussions, mistaken arrangements, and fights over hearing aid batteries. Plus, the convenience of not hearing when it suits us. Now we are trying to listen, to each other, and to trees. There is so much that we have never heard, so little time to hear it.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck, as part of my Barbellion Prize 2021 shortlist reading.
Profile Image for Stephanie Jane.
Author 5 books231 followers
May 25, 2021
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

was impressed with Lynn Buckle's prose when I read her previous novel, The Groundsmen, in 2018. I'm now absolutely blown away by What Willow Says. I loved how this stunning portrayal of the relationship between a grandmother and the deaf granddaughter, for whom she is the primary carer, allowed me to genuinely see the world from their perspectives. The book is written as a series or journal entries that follow the passing seasons. At its heart is an exploration of communication, clearly demonstrating that the ways in which we 'talk' to each other need not be restricted simply to speaking and hearing, and that a child's own natural expressiveness can often be far clearer and deeper than any officially sanctioned language.

I felt some of the themes in What Willow Says reflect those of Jon McGregor's Lean Fall Stand, another of my recent reads that focusing around non-traditional communication methods, but emotionally I was reminded of The Beasts They Turned Away by Ryan Dennis. Buckle's evocations of the natural world and its historic Irish folklore transported me to those places. I felt as though I was alongside the grandmother and granddaughter as they each tried to explain their experiences to the other - feeling the rumble of a nearby tractor or portraying whispering leaves in sign language. Theirs becomes such an intense, yet beautiful relationship and Buckle kept me entranced throughout their story. For me, reading What Willow Says almost felt more like listening to music or watching dance than turning the pages of a book.
Profile Image for Lee.
475 reviews47 followers
May 11, 2022
Disappointingly this didn’t hit me as strongly as I’d hoped, looking at *gestures at all the 5 star reviews from respected reviewers*. So something is different in my case and I think the main factor would be that I’m not so interested in nature writing in my fiction, with few exceptions - Rock Crystal is one, and ironically The Overstory is the other one that comes to mind; ironically because both that one and “What Willow Says” focus on trees, and Buckle credits the same research on trees that has inspired Powers in his writing.

Not being all that taken with the writing about trees, then, this got repetitive feeling for me, though it certainly had its touching moments even for me here and there. The love of the grandmother for the granddaughter (haha, another epoque press book with unnamed characters) shone brightly through, and the scene in the doctor’s office where she tries to explain to him the beauty of the granddaughter’s signing stands out.

Just not quite the right book for me.
Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,134 reviews6 followers
December 20, 2021
4.5 stars rounded to 5 stars

Thanks to the members of the Mookse and the Gripes GR group, who collectively created a list of 56 best books of the year, I discovered this little gem. I read it on Kindle but that edition has not been added to GR (only the paperback edition appears). This is a beautifully written book about the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter and about trees. Core to the book is language and communication. The granddaughter is deaf. The grandmother is dying. The trees are living and dying. All are communicating with each other in some fashion.

The style is unique. The book is composed of 29 diary/journal entries. All but one start the same --
Entry No: __
-- followed by a description that often includes what the diary writer (grandmother) had done, what granddaughter has done, what the trees are doing or having done to them. Often the diarist talks about the Irish myths associated with the area where the daily "action" happens, giving the book a mystical aura.
Profile Image for Emma.
180 reviews
June 2, 2021
This is one of those stories that will challenge and enhance your senses dear reader. The narrative follows a series of journal entires from a grandmother who cares for her deaf granddaughter. She tells her granddaughter Irish mythical stories of the woods, trees, kelpies and frogs. The grandmother is an artist and is often sketching different types of trees as part of a project. Not much is known about her past, she went to art college, was once married but the husband passed away and she lost one of her daughters, the mother to the granddaughter. She has classes to help her learn sign language but admits she hasn’t been practising a lot which means at times she struggles to understand her granddaughter or there is a lot of miscommunication.

I enjoyed watching the relationship between the two relatives unfold. The granddaughter tells the grandmother that she will hear the trees talk if she practises. The grandmother silently carries a heavy burden and finds it easier to stay quiet, she doesn’t know how to talk. She admires how her granddaughter doesn’t let anything hold her back. Often the granddaughter leads the way and tries to show her grandmother a different view of the world. The grandmother feels very planted in the past and tales of old, trying to teach the granddaughter the stories of the land. There are signs and hints that soon the grandmother won’t be around and is trying to prepare her for this. It’s emotional to read as at times the grandmother doesn’t see much point in learning sign language and thinks back to loved ones she’s lost. There is a moment when she sees men ripping down some trees, watching the bark and leaves fly everywhere. She remembers clearly the day they were planted and moves quickly on. The distraction is hard to read as Buckle’s words pull you in, heightening your senses and cause for concern. Nature is such a beauty to behold that it’s scary how in a matter of seconds it can be destroyed and left to rot.

Buckle brings a mythical and magical experience to her writing that bewitches you beyond the point of no return. This book is filled with sounds and nature that comes alive from the moment you start reading. Buckle has a gentle relaxing style that immerses your feet deep into the earth as the sounds of nature whisper through the air. You close your eyes and find yourself talking to the trees, learning a new language and form of communication. You will be surprised how much you learn dear reader, all you have to do is listen.

I give What Willow Says By Lynn Buckle a Four out of Five paw rating.

This book is a brief read at 128 pages long, but Buckle gives you just enough of a taste of the other worldly where children are turned into frogs and kelpies roam the waters that you will feel more than enlightened by your stay. You will crave more but will fully appreciate your time roaming the woods, talking to trees and listening to the river. It will soothe you and connect you to a language that speaks more truth than words could ever say.

Author 1 book9 followers
April 6, 2022
What Willow Says is a short novel structured in diary entries written by Irish author Lynn Buckle.

The protagonists are grandmother, an artist and naturalist interested in recording trees for a compendium she is compiling, and her hearing disabled granddaughter. Since her mother is dead, her primary caretaker is Grandma, who is trying to master sign language through an app. Often the two go on nature outings -- child armed with metal detector and grandma with her sketchbook -- and attempt to record the voice of trees, what trees have to say, with grandmother as a translator.

While this may sound like a scientific enterprise to be recorded in a naturalist’s journal, Buckle avoids the scientific, domineering gaze of the naturalist in favour of a new radical, empathic, embodied form of language between humans and non-humans: Grandma explains the noises of the trees, and the child replicates, interprets and responds with her entire body. By listening and tuning in, for example, she finds “rupture, dissonance, disease, invasion of ecologies diminishing bio-diversities and trees waving histories”, and that “pines are brushing their sorrows against one another. No spoken words denote feelings quite as deeply as these movements of hers”. It is necessary to invent a new form of communication, as man has never really bothered to talk to nature, and for finer tuning granddaughter finds it necessary to renounce the language of men, which happens with the refusal of a cochlear implant: after all, we hear men in the background, destroying, devastating, planting, and the choice is easily made.

This makes me think of granddaughter nearly as of a mythological creature promoting a new humanity, deeply enmeshed and entangled with a broken nature (at the end there is even a scene with frogs half-child/half-frog) and fully committed to its voice. Indeed, a beautiful aspect of the book are the Irish myths and folktales that grandmother tells during their bog adventures and natural encounters, many testifying to the chtonic powers of nature and often to the feminine forces repressed and hidden therein. Often significantly told translating the medieval Irish spelling into Sign language, slowly and with difficulty, working on restoring what is suppressed also on this level.

The diary follow seasons, and so does human life, so toward the ending we understand that grandma is sick and will soon pass away in a beautiful, uplifting finale. A lyrical read and an urgent piece of ecological fiction exploring new ways to connect with nature. Touching and beautifully written, every sentence a gem infused with poetry generating meanings.

One of my favourite reads of the year so far, recommended for those interested in nature writing, myths, legends, Irish culture, communication, feminist stories, compost stories, poignant literary fiction, perfectly developed portraits of human relationships and, because it is short, everyone else!

I am grateful to Epoque Press for a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.
18 reviews1 follower
June 6, 2021
Lynn Buckle has written an intimate and enthralling journey through nature and human nature combined. She brings the reader on a personal, intricate “walk” through the trees and bogs
Of Kildare. Gently holding your hand you are guided through the daily life of nature as it evolves and continues it’s never ending circle of life. Woven into this tapestry is the very human and loving relationship of a “nanny” and her deaf granddaughter. Both are enthralled by the trees and nature that surround them regardless of its urban and rural setting So many times during my read I wanted to reach for a highlighter to underscore phrases and sentences that I needed to read again and again. The narrative brings what natures says to the fore and slips in the details of a poignant and deeply loving story of these two wonderful characters. There is loss. The grandmother’s husband and daughter have both died and their death is a very living part of her daily life. It leaves a painful longing that grandmother regrets hiding from her granddaughter. She does it to protect her as best she can. There are no names to distract you from this wonderful story.
I will certainly be reading it again and again to enjoy the lyrical prose that is there.
Profile Image for Rosamund.
794 reviews46 followers
March 12, 2022
A gem of a book. The joy of language, nature, stories, family and Deaf culture in one intense but delicate package.
Profile Image for Anne Goodwin.
Author 10 books58 followers
March 4, 2022
A beautifully lyrical and poignant story of a widowed artist and her orphaned granddaughter sharing a love of the natural world through sign language and a passion for trees.
Profile Image for Christopher Boon.
Author 2 books5 followers
December 22, 2021
An incredibly beautiful, very moving read. The prose is sumptuous and poetic. Rhyme, half rhyme, alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia all combine to deeply hypnotic effect. Keep a notebook at hand if you collect words.
Profile Image for Adrian.
686 reviews14 followers
August 27, 2022
About twenty years ago I took an evening British Sign Language class. Our tutor was Deaf and had no speech but she was funny, creative and managed to get us to understand what she was saying in sign from day one. The whole course was a blast and I remember taking an exam at the end where I had to tell a story in four pictures to a deaf examiner - mine involved decorating a room and painting myself into a corner - much gesticulation required. Our tutor took us to the pub and the Deaf Club and we were warmly welcomed into the culture, as well as discovering the tutor was a Big Deal in the local community. Everyone except one person stayed to the end of the year and I’m still friends with a couple of them now. Most of us were doing it out of interest but the one lady who left was the only person to be learning because she had a deaf family member and I always wondered what happened to her. So I recommend that course to anyone - it is a great skill and massive fun!

I was excited to be recommended this book by Goodreads (based on liking another one I can’t remember). It was pleasing to read about deafness, sig language and life, though the writing was a bit densely nature-filled quite for my liking.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,741 reviews17 followers
January 4, 2022
What Willow Says is an Irish short novel, or novella, written as 29 journal entries by a grandmother. She begins each entry listing the Wind, Weather, and Outlook for each day. The Outlook is her personal sense of the day ahead. The entries tell of the interactions between the grandmother and her eight year old granddaughter.

Both the grandmother and granddaughter enjoy nature and spend many hours walking together or looking for natural places. Grandmother is searching out trees to draw for the compendium of Irish trees which she has working on for 40 years. They are chagrined when trees are chopped down, even when they are replaced with saplings.

Granddaughter is deaf, and speaks through sign language, signals and body movements. Grandmother, even though she is the child's care taker, simply cannot force herself to learn many signs, so they often make up their own silent language.

Grandmother planted willow shoots years ago along her back fence. Now her granddaughter wants to know what they sound like, what the willows say, but grandmother studies them visually, not aurally. She tries to listen, but must wait until there is wind.

My heart stopped when an entry’s Outlook read “stage 3.” I’d missed the earlier mention of illness and now felt almost overwhelmed with emotion for each of them. They are so close and care deeply for each other. What is going to happen to them?

What Willow Says is more poetry than prose. I read it slowly to savor each word and then went back later to reread portions. In the second reading I saw words and phrases that now had a new meaning. It is a rich and rewarding book.

Rating: 4+
Profile Image for Andy.
980 reviews36 followers
January 6, 2022
beautiful and poetic

exploration of a grandmother caring for deaf grandchild

immersed in the midlands bog landscape and the trees that populate it, with oblique references to her previous losses - husband and daughter
1,208 reviews2 followers
May 21, 2022
tender tale of love and beauty told in the intimate voice of an irish grandmother. poetic and sometimes a bit obscure for me.
Profile Image for Faith N..
25 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2023
Beautiful. This is going on my yearly reread list.
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