This first-time author writes with exquisite sensitivity, the chapters brimming with images of the Welsh countryside and the intimacies of small-town life, where one's personal business is known to all and frequently discussed. Susan Fletcher's keen eye misses no detail in a vivid portrait of a verdant valley filled with family ties and bitter, cosseted enmities.
As she awaits the birth of her first child, the almost thirty-year-old Eve Green gazes into the past to the years when she first arrived at her grandparents' farm, after her mother dies suddenly and unexpectedly. Devastated, the child has difficulty adjusting from city life to the country, where city sounds are replaced by "straw, dung, petrol, the stench of dead water, the tang of wood smoke."
Surveying her radically changed surroundings, the almost eight-year-old Evangeline cautiously assesses her grandparents and the town eccentrics, an unfamiliar social environment of secrets, resentments, and a bevy of interesting ancestors. But Evie is desperate for more information about the father she has never met, a red-headed Irishman who left her his hair and coloring, but little else.
One of Evangeline's most coveted possessions is her mother's box of mementos, scraps of scribbled paper, fragments of handwriting and bits of treasure, all that remains of her mother's great passion. But no one will speak about Evie's father, and her grandmother cautions Evie not to ask anyone about him - a forbidden subject for a girl consumed with curiosity. With few friends save Daniel, a farm hand, and Billy Macklin, a reclusive, damaged young man who lives on the fringes of the town, Evie has few options when seeking information about the red-headed man her mother adored.
With the disappearance of Rosie Hughes, a beautiful, privileged girl who would certainly have become Evangeline's rival had she lived, the town seethes with gossip and whispered accusations. The police question anyone suspicious and the neighborhood is thoroughly searched. Enraged by the small-mindedness of one shop owner, Evie commits a grievous error of judgment, an act she will later bitterly regret, victim of her youthful passion to right wrongs as well as loyalty to a friend. The consequence of her impetuosity is a well-learned life lesson.
Fletcher perfectly captures Welsh country life, the lyrical passages as moving as the story itself. Evangeline's tart, childish perceptions and the comfort of the natural world that feeds her soul create a wonderful portrait of a bereaved child searching for roots. Her incisive observations, plague of red curls and freckles, capacity for love, even her mistakes, make Evangeline a memorable character. Fletcher's poetic prose is reminiscent of Regina McBride, but uniquely her own. This novel holds the promise of wonderful tales to come; already a fan, I can't wait.