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Haweswater, by Sarah Hall.

January 27, 2015

Haweswater, by Sarah Hall.  Faber & Faber, 2003, Paperback.

3 stars

A haunting novel about an unlikely couple whose passion takes place in a village about to be submerged in a proposed lake in an isolated English valley.

Marsdale was a real village in the Lake District of northern England which was flooded  by a reservoir to provide water to Manchester in 1937. The ruins of its buildings can still be seen when the water level of the Haweswater Reservoir is low. Sarah Hall sets her novel in the town before and during its inundation. She tells the story of people of the village learning it will be destroyed and leaving when the waters flood in. The story focuses on Janet, a young woman deeply rooted in the valley, and Jack, the man who planned the dam. Their turbulent affair takes place against the building of the dam.

Sarah Hall grew up in Cambria, near the site of the destroyed village. She retains a deep love for the place and its people. Haweswater is explicitly intended as a “salutation” to them.  Hall is a fine wordsmith capable of capturing both the setting and the character of her novel. Its richly detailed descriptions are evidence of her commitment. Images of water, of rain and tears and as analogies for moods and emotion, unify the book.

Yet for me, Hall was never able to make the passion between Janet and Jack seem plausible.  I enjoyed her carefully crafted novel writing, and liked her depiction of its minor characters and of the countryside.  Yet I felt a hole in the center of the novel. Perhaps this is another book that other readers will like more than I did.

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