What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant?
What would you do to get it back?
Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.
But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.
Unsettled Ground is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.
What I Thought:
I heard this week that Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and I thought that this shows exceptional good taste and wisdom from the judges, as it really is a wonderful book.
Although this book has some very bleak moments for the main characters, there is always a beauty to the writing that lifts even the most hopeless of situations in Julius and Jeanie’s lives. I said last year when I read Hamnet that I was so jealous of Maggie O’Farrell’s beautiful use of words, and the same goes for Claire Fuller – sometimes the sparest sentence can evoke the most vivid pictures and I stand in awe of her skill.
At the heart of the book is a single lie, which has grown and multipled over the course of years to become a tangled web of pain and deceit, made by Julius and Jeanie’s mum, Dot. As we see her dying mometns it seems that she realises what she’s done, but it’s too late to save her children from what they have to face next.
As Dot’s lies begin to come out the twins must face the truth without Dot’s protection and with little ability to provide for themselves which, at the age of 51 is a huge culture shock – in some ways, they are living ‘out of time’ – they’ve no bank accounts, few modern conveniences and a stubborn refusal to accept help from anyone, so when their lives start to unravel it’;s an unstoppable force.
I though Julius and Jeanie were wonderful characters as, although they were quite childlike in some respects, there was potential there and by the times we leave them at the end of the book, we’re content to do so, knowing that they’re going to be ok. That’s another of Claire Fuller’s great strengths – making you really, truly care for her characters with all their faults and foibles.
The strongest thread running through the book is music, which is at the heart of the Seeder family. Even at the heart of their biggest disagreements, the music is able to bring them back together and give them comfort.
This is a powerful book, touching on the strength of family, and the weakness of individuals within that family. It’s sometimes a hard road to get there, but it’s ultimately an uplifting and rewarding read.
Unsettled Ground is published by Fig Tree.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Unsettled Ground. Why not check out some of the other blogs taking part below, or over on Instagram?