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Book Review: Fell by Jenn Ashworth

If you liked the atmospheric writing of The Loney, you’ll enjoy this haunting novel set just up the coast around Morecambe Bay with its seeping, shifting sands, creeping decay and sinister Sycamores full of starlings. These last two are helping nature to reclaim the abandoned family home Annette Clifford inherits. She’s an unwilling beneficiary, reluctantly returning to deal with the house and in doing so, inadvertently disturbing the spirits of her parents. Once awakened, they see this as an opportunity for them to make amends but first have to revisit what was a painful period in their former lives together.

Fell is narrated by the spirit parents which adds to the disturbing sense of things shifting; they move around and disappear like will o’the wisps, struggle to find words, have no voice in this new incarnation but somehow need to find a way to communicate with their daughter and others in the book.

I don’t think you need to know the place to enjoy this novel at all but it gave me an added thrill to already know the area where Fell is set from regular visits to Great Aunts who lived there and I had fun recognising elements of it. But I also enjoyed visiting Jenn Ashworth’s version of it. The house, together with the town and estuary around it, all feel like living, breathing characters and the way in which Jenn Ashworth describes them can at times be unsettling. She gives the reader a real sense of their own impermanence with the descriptions of how tides and sands, or plants and mould, keep creeping, moving, shifting, reclaiming, or revealing again what was lost. 

Adding to the novel’s mystery is one lodger in particular, Timothy Richardson, a human cuckoo. Is he a charmer or a charlatan? Gifted or burdened? His character and that of Jack were the most interesting for me because they were the hardest to make out; their interests and motivations are slippery and it’s difficult to know whether to trust them or not. I really felt for Netty running a busy lodging house, suffering as she does and undergoing treatment – some more conventional than others! – and all the while trying to hide it from her daughter yet still find a way of spending time with her, making happy childhood memories. And it’s fascinating for the reader – and the spirit parents – to see what the child Annette, often overlooked, neglected even, grasps of what’s going on and how she copes with what she knows and what she can only guess at, as well as what she learns when no one’s looking.

Fell is a beautiful, haunting novel with its mix of mysterious mythic elements and ordinary lives, hurt and healing, supernatural and natural worlds, imbued with hope and I’d recommend you reading it if you can.

Fell is Jenn Ashworth’s fourth novel and it’s published by Sceptre in the UK. It is out in hardback and as an ebook from 14th July and is available from Amazon UK, Hive and Waterstones. You can find out more about Jenn Ashworth and her books and short stories on her Author Website, on Facebook or on Twitter

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