Title: The Well
Author: Catherine Chanter
Genres: Contemporary | Dystopia | Magical Realism | Mystery | Thriller
Length: 400 pages | locations
Ruth returns home, after having been in custody, to The Well, the only place on the country where it still rains, while everywhere else is going through intense drought.
She is traumatized by the death of her grandson, and even more so by the fact that everyone, including the ones she loves the most, seems to think she did it.
It is up to Ruth to find out what happened to Lucien, but can she do so in such a frail state of mind?
It took me a while to get into this book and, to be utterly honest, to stay with it.
First of all, I was confused because I had read in the synopsis our main character was viewed either as a witch or a saviour, so for some reason I thought the story took place long ago. Then I started seeing references to all sorts of current things, and when Ruth’s narrative goes back in time I realized that her world started out just as our own and it can be considered present day.
I also could not connect with the main character, and that stayed with me throughout the book. I never got a clear idea of what she felt. As a narrator, she would just go I did this, then that, then that. I wanted to do this and find that, etc. It was a cold narrative, devoid of feeling.
Then I started getting comfortable, even with the cold narrator. I could see something like this happening in our world and, more particularly, in my country since, here in Portugal, it has been raining less and less each year. When you have what other people want, you begin to see the worst in them, let alone if it’s something they actually need.
My favourite thing to read in this novel were precisely the effects of the drought in people; I only wish there would have been more of it. In the book, when people realize the drought is not something temporary at all and that The Well is getting more and more prosper while everywhere else is deteriorating, things slowly degenerate and people get mean out of desperation. Ruth and Mark’s dream slowly turns into a nightmare.
I enjoyed reading stuff like petrol going up 120% and bars closing up because drinks were too expensive, because it felt so real – I really wished there would have been more of that, of how the rest of the country was dealing with the drought, and what theories there were to why it only rained at The Well.
I also did not get why there were not more attempts to try and get The Well’s water from the people around them, if it was that precious. Instead people basically scowl at Ruth and Mark because how dare they. So on one hand I get the idea that things are really bad because of the drought and the next, well, not so much.
Overall, I found the way the mysteries were presented very intriguing and the innuendos drove me crazy in a good way, but the way the resolutions were delivered not so much. They took ages to arrive, and sometimes they didn’t at all.
The writing too dense, lyrical and flourished. Often times, I would not know what was going on at all. Ruth would go on these weird ramblings that seemed so pointless to me – and they could have been engaging, if they allowed me to get in her mind, but being so devoid of feeling I just struggled to stay with the story and my mind kept travelling to other places. I have to say I did go to bed much earlier thanks to this book because the letters would just start dancing after a few lines, and therefore ended up getting more rest, so that’s good. In a way, at least.
The dialogues also did not help at times, because they would go like – a character’s line, then a reply, then a character’s line, then Ruth’s thoughts, then another line… At times she would go on and on, and then say ‘I said that much’. Ok, so I know she said her thoughts out loud, but exactly how much of it?
Other times, I didn’t get what she said at all, if anything. Example:
Ruth: “They’re down in the dip.”
Someone else: “I know that, but what do they believe?”
Ruth: Good question.
Someone else: “Do you think they’ll stay long?”
So… What did she reply regarding that question on what they believe, as the ‘good question’ bit was an inner monologue? It doesn’t seem plausible that she said nothing and the other person would just move on to the next question, right? I don’t know…
There were some things I didn’t get, like Boy warning Ruth about taking her meds, that if she doesn’t they can force her via patch or injections. And yet, when she trashes the place it seems that there are no consequences, not to mention several other things which clearly show she hasn’t been taking them. I also still do not get the chronology of Ruth getting pregnant with Angie and marrying Mark. The whole getting married thing was presented as if Mark doing the right thing, as in marrying the girl he knocked up, but if it wasn’t his kid in the first place, why describe it like that? In the beginning it is mentioned that Lucien was 7 years old when he died, and the rest of the book refers to him as being 5; I suppose that, this being an ARC, this will be fixed.
Most of all, I thought I would be diving into a book packed with emotion. This woman lives in the seemingly only place not affected by the worldwide drought, she is psychological unstable and everyone thinks she killed her grandson – even she isn’t sure that she did not. And, in the end, there was just a lot of poetic prose about anything and everything, and I could not feel much at all. Not even towards her daughter. We are told she is an addict but, again, where is the motherly ache and grief towards her child turning into that? The helplessness of not being able to bring her out of it, of the wasted years? Even some guilt in feeling she could have done something to prevent it? The rare times anything of the sort is mentioned, I felt they were just thrown in there because the reader was expecting it, but they did not feel real to me at all.
So we are supposed to be reading about a mentally unstable woman who doesn’t seem to be much at all besides utterly void of any emotion, as a woman, mother and wife. I can tell the cult drove her to it, but not exactly how. She seemed to be such an intelligent woman, and I could not tell at all why she even fell for it in the first place. I also could never tell what exactly their ‘worshipping’ consisted of, other than frolicking in the water. Most of the time she seems very lucid, and even aware that she is being manipulated, but then we are hearing about her having delusions – even in present day, after all has been said and done – and I have no idea where that came from.
I was also disappointed that the secondary characters were so flat. I have read books told by the main character where that did not happen, but in this one it’s all Ruth, me-me-me.
I did not even get much closure at all. The mystery of Lucien’s murder was beyond predictable, especially after a certain point, just not the specifics of it; I didn’t even get if the allegations towards Mark were true or not, especially with a handful of scenes where it really could be either way; nor why it only rained at The Well, which was what got me interested in the book in the first place.
I have to admit that, most of the time, I was very bored reading this book. It’s like it could not decide what it wanted to be. I was actually pretty excited in the beginning, reading about the effects of the drought and this magical land which seemed to have been spared of it all. Then the effects of all that psychological pressure on Ruth and Mark, which put a toll on their marriage. The cult thing was clutter to me, and the murder mystery stretched on for ages. I felt that it took me a small eternity to finish the novel because I just did not feel engaged with the story and it seemed to drag on and on and on. Even the plot twist was not dramatic at all, and the ending itself stretched on for pages and pages, utterly unnecessary!
I was so disappointed at said ending. When I turned the last page and there was nothing else, I was like… That’s it? This is how this character redeems herself? Is this supposed to give me hope that she will be happy one day? Instead of trying her best to make amends with her husband and daughter, she turns her back on them and starts from scratch? Is this really how a character plagued with guilt goes about handling it? She spent the whole book driving those who she supposedly loves away, and that’s how it ends, more of the same? So disappointing.
If you don’t mind a slow-paced book (and there can be very good slow-paced books) and not getting much closure, then you can enjoy this book, because it does have some good things, especially the world building and all the nuances at what is coming ahead. But do keep in mind that this is more of a psychological journey and a murder mystery, not a paranormal story at all. I guess I feel I was misled a bit. Even without the paranormal aspect, I could have enjoyed this book because I have read others of the kind. You may enjoy it very much, there are loads of very high rating reviews out there. In the end, it was just not for me.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Read from Jul 10 to Ju 18, 2015