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Arts and Literature
Novels set in Cumbria
A first novel of love, obsession and the destruction of a community, set in a remote dale of Westmorland in 1936. Told in luminous prose by Cumbrian-born author Sarah Hall.
This novel remembers a rural England that has been disappearing for decades, and introduces a young storyteller of great imaginative and emotional power.
Faber and Faber
A strikingly original first novel, full not just of fury but also of the most sensitive compassion for the people and the place, and an understanding of both which is rare. - Margaret Forster.
Today the village of Mardale lies beneath the waters of the reservoir. At the head of the reservoir is a vast stone dam that dominates the valley like an Egyptian monument. The waters are piped to the people of Manchester.
Mardale was once an isolated village in a remote Westmorland valley. Twenty-five houses clustered around the church of St. Patrick set on its small hill and the village pub, The Dun Cow. It was a farming community, raising cattle and sheep, and the way of life was tied closely to the pattern of the seasons.
The farmers were largely tenants and did not own the land even though in every other way the valley was theirs. Inevitably, they lived close to the land, living as their ancestors had lived for centuries and keeping the old traditions of the valley. Their small community was bound together by a common past and common needs.
Sarah Hall's novel is the story of the years in the 1930's when Mardale and its way of life was lost for ever.
Janet Lightburn is the daughter of Samuel Lightburn and his evangelical wife Ella. Janet, even at eighteen, is a forthright individualist, ready to challenge the ways of her parents and the ways of the village and to stand up to the outside world.
In 1936 Jack Liggett arrives in Mardale in his Riley Sprite sports car. He is the representative of Manchester Waterworks. Within a year, he tells the placid people of the village, a dam will be built and their valley will be flooded. They can do little against the will of their landlord, Acts of Parliament and the forces of the outside world.
Only Janet faces up to Jack Liggett. She is repelled by what he stands for but she is also drawn towards this man from the outside world with his easy charm. The fierce spirit with which she constantly challenges him also attracts him. Both feel the tension between the world of the valley to which they are both deeply attached and the world beyond. Janet wins the right for the farmers to extend their tenancies.
He and Janet become lovers. Their secret is kept from the village. The hills and rivers are theirs. Jack roams the hills night and day, drinking in their formidable beauty, and coming to love the land he will destroy.
Sarah Hall has written a novel that re-creates this lost world. The line between fact and fiction is blurred and the antagonistic love of Janet and Jack comes to have the reality of Haweswater itself. Are there really photographs of Janet and Jack in the waterwork's museum? The newspapers reported the deaths of men on the dam construction site and the body of one worker was interred in the dam itself as though it were a vast mausoleum. But did Jack die attempting to restore a symbol of the valley's spirit and was Janet killed in one final act of resistance?
Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria in 1974. She now lives in North Carolina. This is her first novel. There have been very few books that have depicted the old life of rural Cumbria with such sympathy and understanding. But this is not a nostalgic elegy for a lost way of life. The novel understands the process of change, and creates a tragic story that symbolises the forces that resulted in the destruction of a beautiful valley and the loss of a community and a way of life. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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