Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is a novel that I heard a lot about at the time of its publication – bloggers and reviewers seemed to absolutely love Norris’ debut, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it for quite some time.
There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral. That is the meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.
One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower – all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is split into five sections, and each one is told from a different perspective. I thought that the structure of the novel worked well, as it allows the reader to get to know one character before moving on to the next, without jumping back and forth between them as some novels are wont to do. Living in Salisbury, these five characters are linked even before the accident mentioned in the above synopsis, and whilst some of these links are stronger than others, I liked catching sight of one character from another’s perspective and seeing them through a different pair of eyes.
I thought that each character’s voice was distinct, and I think that this is a testament to Norris’s skill as a writer, as he has picked a diverse cast of characters who vary significantly in age and lifestyle. Each comes across as being genuine, however, and it was interesting to see how the lives of these five very different people were linked. I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed each narrative equally, but the characters did all come across as being authentic.
I particularly enjoyed the perspectives of the schoolboy, Sam, and the widower, George, however. Sam is experiencing (non-familial) love for the first time, with all the ups and downs that this entails, but is struggling to deal with his father’s illness, and seems unable to talk about what he is going through. There are some heart-breaking scenes in this narrative (and indeed in the others, too) but this section for me was one of the most poignant. George’s story is also incredibly sad, as someone who has just lost his wife, and is now facing the horror of having to return home to see the remnants of the life they had built together.
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain deals with various themes, including depression and loss, and is quite bleak in tone, although there are some beautiful moments within this novel’s pages, and I liked how it was all neatly tied up by the end. I will say that Norris does write beautifully, and I would be interested in reading future novels from him on this basis, but overall, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain just didn’t quite work for me.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐