In the opening pages of this novel, Ken Jackson dies, and is reborn as himself. He is able to relive his own life with full memory of his first shot at it and to try and fix the things he thinks went wrong. It raises so many questions about what any of us would do differently if we knew how some of those choices would play out. But of course once you start changing things, you no longer really know how anything works anyway.
This is an engaging story about identity and choice, and about what we think we know and how partial that always is. The setup allows us to see multiple versions of the same people, and impressively, this is never confusing! The writing is incredibly skillful, with two closely related timelines playing out side by side for the majority of the book, in a way that always makes perfect sense.
The story is set, for the greater part, in a Cornish fishing village. The sense of place really contributes to the atmosphere and the character of the book. Further, David draws on a rich seam of traditions, conveying a time and a place on the brink of change. From the 1960s onwards, the fishing fleets declined, taking other traditional industries with them and draining the life from traditional communities. This is handled with a sensitivity that never romanticizes what’s lost but doesn’t encourage you to be seduced by the idea of ‘progress’ either.
For the Pagan reader, there are generations of magical women, traditional herbalism and people who are deeply rooted in their landscapes. This is more in the wise woman tradition than practicing Paganism, and again it’s handled deftly and deeply embedded in the story.
David Bridger is a thoughtful, insightful author whose appreciation for messy, human lives lights up every page. I am entirely smitten with his writing style. If you like books with unpredictable shapes, this has a very satisfying and surprising story, richly emotional and ultimately hopeful.