‘There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral. That is the meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.’
One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower – all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.
What I Thought:
As someone who, at various stages, has thought ‘I might like to write a novel’, reading a book like Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is very likely to make me never think that thought again, as how could anything I could ever write possibly compare to the beauty in this book? I don’t say that in a self-pitying way, but rather to completely praise Barney Norris for writing what, at times, is a breathtakingly beautiful book. It’s a measure of his talent as a writer that, considering he is better known for writing plays, his prose is spare and powerful and paints such vivid mental pictures.
Not so surprisingly, considering the drama background, the five characters that form the interlocking frame of the novel are fully imagined and each has such a unique and personal voice that it would be easy to believe that more than one writer had contributed to the book.
I think the story that spoke to me most was the first – that of Rita the flower seller. Her’s is a story of lack of opportunity, missed chances and dreams shattered and is particularly poignant given the arc of her story through the novel.
My big takeaway from this book was that, as we pass through life, we never truly know how we connect with people, how our paths cross and how our actions affect others, even in the smallest of ways. Barney Norris manages to interweave his five characters in a natural and seemingly coincidental way until the moment that their paths collide in a tragic way one summer evening.
As I’ve said, this book is worth picking up for the wonderful prose alone, but it is also something of a confessional from each character, as they look back at things they regret, and attempt to move forward with meaning – in essence, being hugely relatable as are we not all just trying to do that?? A somewhat melancholy read, perfect for a summer’s day.
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is published by Black Swan. To find out more about Barney Norris, you can connect with him on Twitter. As an aside, he is also appearing at Salisbury Literary Festival this year, so do check out their events pages…
Please note: I received a review copy of this book courtesy of Gullivers Bookshop. All opinions are, as ever, my own.