I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Fell – Jenn Ashworth’s latest novel, which was published yesterday (14 July) by Sceptre.
Annette Clifford left her childhood home many years ago, and has never looked back. The past comes catching up with her, however, as she comes to inherit her childhood home. Returning, she despairs. The house is decrepit, and to make it liveable will be a huge, and expensive, undertaking.
As Annette attempts to bring the house into some kind of order, she is watched by the spirits of her parents who have lain dormant until Annette’s return. Through their eyes, we see snapshots of the present day, as well as of the summer of 1963, when Netty, Annette’s mother, was ill and the mysterious Timothy Richardson came to live with them.
The Cliffords took in lodgers, including Tim, as a way of making ends meet, and Netty saw them her boys, a part of the family. Her illness eventually means that she is no longer able to provide an adequate service to them, however, and the lodgers are asked to leave. All except Tim. Tim, who heals Jack’s eyesight with a touch of his hands. They let him stay in the hope that he can also help Netty in some way. Tim seems to have an agenda of his own, however.
Going into Fell, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a highly original novel – I can’t think of anything that is quite like it, and I was soon engrossed in the story of the Cliffords and their mysterious lodger. To me, everything about Tim screamed conman. The charm, the charisma, the somewhat dubious back story. And yet as I read, I became less convinced that this was the case. He undoubtedly has some ability, albeit one that can’t (or won’t) be used at will. I was intrigued to know exactly what he was up to and what he was seeking to get out of the relationship, other than a cheap room and regular meals.
And while Netty fawns over Tim, and while Jack maintains a wary eye on him, their young daughter is lost in the background, practically ignored. Her life seems to be one of being seen but not heard, and she is often found playing alone in the garden where she won’t be in the way. The people who spoke to her most often were the lodgers, and with them gone, she is bereft of company. Why she left and sought to put such distance between herself and her family isn’t explicitly stated, although it’s easy to see why she might feel resentful.
What captivated me the most, however, and what made this story special, were Netty and Jack’s voices. Through the flashbacks, the reader feels their profound sense of regret about the way they were constantly distracted by something and never made time for their daughter. In many ways, this is quite a sad story, and this is heightened by their confusion at why they’ve been awoken, and their frustration at being unable to reach out and comfort their daughter. For me, Fell is a tale about realising too late the things that deserve our focus, when other aspects of life seek to distract us.
Fell is a little harrowing in places, particularly the description of Netty’s illness and her treatments, and the effect it has on the family’s life. We see the peaks and troughs of their hopes, the resignation as she becomes increasingly worse and the stress on both Netty and Jack to just keep going. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and there are some wonderful little touches of humour throughout the novel.
I haven’t read anything by Ashworth prior to this novel, but I’ll definitely be looking up her previous novels off the back of this one – Cold Light in particular sounds fascinating.
Many thanks to Nikki Barrow for the ARC.
Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour: