Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain
by Barney Norris
‘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 set in Salisbury, with the cathedral as its focal point. The book opens with a descriptive piece about how Salisbury came into being and the five rivers that converge there.
“The startled world, stirred by this confluence of riverways, started to sing bright notes into the blue air.”
The five rivers are used as a metaphor for the five stories contained in the book, moving along side by side, alone, but at the same time connecting, interweaving, sometimes in ways they didn’t realise.
The first story is Rita’s. Rita is a flower seller, with a sideline in drug dealing. She fears she is about to go to prison and wants to connect with her estranged family. We get a glimpse into a life out of control that is raw and authentic.
The second story is Sam’s. Sam is a schoolboy and the two sides of his life are tearing him apart. On the one hand he is falling in love but at home his father is dying. We follow him as he tries to cope with emotions he doesn’t understand and that are overwhelming him.
The third story belongs to an elderly farmer who has recently lost his beloved wife.
The fourth story is that of an army wife who is at home alone while her husband is on tour in Afghanistan and her teenage son is away at boarding school. She is suffering from acute loneliness and depression.
The last story is of Liam, a security guard, who after breaking up with his girlfriend removes himself from his London life and returns to Salisbury burying himself in a dead end job away from any social life.
This book is extremely well written, and the prose verges on the poetic at times, with some moments of stunning perception that leave you breathless. Unfortunately, for me, the character engagement just wasn’t there. During some of the stories, especially the last two there are prolonged bouts of introspection which in some cases instead of coming across as emotional seem more self pitying. Having said that the author is indeed very talented and the way he weaves the connections between the lives into the various stories and how they all come together is very well done.
There is so much to commend about this book and Barney Norris will have a brilliant career ahead of him. His writing is superb and for anyone who likes their prose poetic and their novels literary I am sure this book will hit the mark. I look forward to his next book.
Many thanks to Sophie Christopher at Transworld Books for sending me a copy.