Book Review: Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill
As a local archaeological dig unearths harsh burial rites and customs, secrets in the Vermuydens’ own more recent past threaten their fragile equilibrium in Fiona Neill’s latest novel.
After a chaotic childhood, Grace Vermuyden is determined her own daughters will fulfil the dreams denied to her.
Lilly is everyone’s golden girl, the popular, clever daughter she never had to worry about. So when she mysteriously collapses in class, Grace’s carefully ordered world begins to unravel. Dark rumours swirl around their tight-knit community as everyone comes up with their own theories about what happened.
Consumed with paranoia, and faced with increasing evidence that Lilly has been leading a secret life, Grace starts to search for clues. But left to her own devices, ten-year-old Mia develops some wild theories of her own that have unforeseen and devastating consequences for the people she loves most.
The archaeological dig Mia’s class visits indicates how well-preserved the past is here, as well as how different and difficult life once was in the Fens. (The greater impact of the dig on one section of society signals that there are still disparities and where there’s room for improvement.)
The man-made landscape is susceptible to Mother Nature exposing that which was previously buried. Storms roll in, causing flash floods or Fen Blow, where loose topsoil is lifted up and carried in the wind to be deposited elsewhere. These natural forces, in combination with more human shortcomings, converge on the Vermuyden family home, putting some relics and the secrets they embody at risk of discovery.
Vermuyden ancestors helped to reclaim the fens from the sea and their modern-day counterparts are in turn trying to prevent this marshy region from encroaching on their home. The already stressful situation is further exacerbated when a perfect storm of conflicting issues hits the family, with the potential to be every bit as corrosive as those sudden squalls which redraw the marshlands around their home.
Fiona Neill’s Beneath the Surface conveys a real sense of the Vermuydens struggling to maintain their footing, every bit as hampered and out of their element as Mia’s increasingly desolate pet eel. I read this book, almost frantic that he be returned to his watery home in time and for the Vermuydens to find a way to keep each other and their family unit afloat. Beneath the Surface is a gripping Fenland family drama inextricably bound up in the very landscape which shapes it.
Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill is published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where every purchase helps support your local independent bookshop. For more on Fiona and her writing, check out her Author Website.
My thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.