‘The smell of the ocean was everywhere on her not just skin but the blood and bone of her so gone through was she with seawater and Ia touched her head her fingers sticking briefly to the damp, fleshy skull. The sea had the girl faded, it was only a matter of time until the mist thinned her down to an aspic puddle…’
Today I’m very excited to be taking part in the All Rivers Run Free blog tour. I didn’t know what to expect with this one, but rather fancied I was off to a winner with that stunning cover (design by the amazing Zoe Norvell) and promises that I would be swept away by Natasha Carthew’s ‘raw and wild’ story of Ia Pendilly and Geeva, the waif she finds washed up on the rocks.
Ia ekes out a bleak and lonely life in a caravan on the Cornish coast, shared with her brutal cousin and common law husband, Branner. Their cove and the gang that dominates it are isolated, England beyond given over to storms, flooding, and terrifying mob rule. Ia’s experience is tragic; we learn quickly that she has lost her parents, become separated from her twin sister Evie, and trapped in an abusive relationship with her father’s cousin at just 15. The book opens with the latest in a series of miscarriages she has suffered. With that background you might think All Rivers Run Free is relentlessly depressing, but it truly isn’t. Two people, Geeva and Jenna, find their way into Ia’s life, and so begins a journey along the River Tamar toward hope, freedom, and family.
All Rivers Run Free is unlike anything I have ever read before. It is not a book to be read so much as experienced. Rachel Holmes describes it as ‘raw, passionate, hallucinatory’ and that sums it up perfectly. The imagery throughout is startlingly potent, and I found myself visualising scenes less like a film in my head, with action and dialogue playing in sequence, and more like kaleidoscopic bursts to my senses – oranges washing up on the shore (‘tiny pools of sunlight scattered on the shingle-sand’), a bonfire smoking in the distance, and in my ear the beating heart of a secret compass hidden beneath the floor.
It will be no surprise to anyone who reads this book to learn that Natasha Carthew is a poet who spends much of her time outdoors. In the best way possible, it was like reading one very long poem. At first I found it a little jarring having to slow my pace and adjust my rhythm (perhaps I don’t read enough poetry!) but my efforts were rewarded with masterful storytelling and wonderfully rich and beautiful writing. I found myself reading the same passages over and over, even whispering them to myself, testing their cadence, and just know this is one I will reread and discover something new each time.
I was instantly captivated by Ia Pendilly. Natasha Carthew said she wanted to create a character readers could root for from the start, and I absolutely did. I loved her warmth, her humour, the pleasure she could find in the simplest of things, and her tenacious pursuit of freedom in defiance of a life of loneliness, grief and abuse. ‘Brittle, but not yet broken’. I loved her, and All Rivers Run Free, fiercely.
A very special thank you to Ana McLaughlin at rivverrun and Quercus for sending me this extraordinary book, and for the privilege of being part of the hype.
About the author
Natasha Carthew is a Cornish native and has been published previously as a poet and young adult writer. Her books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award and shortlisted for several national awards, including the Branford Boase. She lives in Cornwall with her girlfriend of 20 years and spends most of her time writing outdoors in all weathers and in a cabin she built herself from scrap. Her identity as a country writer has led her to become a survival expert, a trained walking guide, and to teach Wild Writing workshops.
Natasha is a startling new voice from beyond the limits of common urban experience. She tells a tale of marginalisation and motherhood in prose that crashes like waves on rocks: rough, breathless and beautiful.