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Calliope

The Earth Hums in B-Flat - General Discussion

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Well, I finished the book this afternoon. I have mixed feelings. I thought there were some interesting elements of suspense, and that the plot about the school teacher and her murdered husband moved along at a good pace and worked well. I also thought the novel drew a convincing portrait of a place that I don't know - I can't say how accurately Welsh it was, but that's not something I look for in a story anyway. I want to feel that the place is believable and internally consistent and to me Strachan managed this.

My main problem was with the main character. I was increasingly sceptical about her age (she is simply too naive, particularly for someone who seems rather clever), by the end of the story, some of this naivete should be chipped away in terms of the way she speaks - because of what she's learned. That I didn't quite believe in her as a fictional device had an unfortunate distancing effect on the rest of the story. The character of 'mam' also bothers me. She is interesting but overdone. It is obvious that she hates her daughter and we want to know why - but we don't need continued repetitions of the hatred. There are a lot of repetitions in the novel in general. I don't remember how often 'mam,' says Alwenna needs to wash her mouth out with soap but it seems to be at least once per chapter.
Whevenever I come across an irriatating tic like this in a story I find myself wondering if tighter editing would have helped. I wonder this as well about the middle part of the story which did sag a little.

Not a bad first novel, though, and interesting enough to make Strachan someone to watch out for. I'm curious about everyone else's impressions.

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I've just finished.

Like Kimberley, I had a lot of difficulties with the central character. She was just too naive for her age, even in simpler times. All the stuff with the faces in the distemper and the toby jugs felt like an eight year old, and even her syntax was like listening to a breathless child, not an apparently well read twelve year old.

The mum was quite an annoying character, too - her character did engage me in that it made me feel quite sorry for the daughters. I found the ending very distressing. But thank goodness for Tada! What a hero.

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The Earth Hums in B Flat is not great literature but made for a perfectly enjoyable and quick read.

 

The basic premise is that Gwenni, a 12 or 13 year old girl, lives with her parents and elder sister Bethan in a small north Welsh village in 1958. The village is deeply conservative and social values are dictated by the Bible. The Minister is called The Voice of God, and there doesn’t seem to be much hint of irony in the name.

 

Gwenni seems a bit odd – she apparently believes she can fly and can hear the Earth hum. Her father and her teacher tell her that she is bright, but at times she seems terribly naïve in the ways of the world. It’s hard to know how far the naïvety is a product of a sheltered life in a community in which social values are not questioned – a simpler time – or how far it is a discontinuity in the writing. Certainly, Gwenni’s older friend Alwenna seems pretty worldly wise in spreading the gossip.

 

 

could anyone really have visited the house of a murdered man on the morning of the murder and not linked this to a pool of blood on the floor, broken crockery and a poker…?

 

 

The plot meanders a bit, and this is a failing. It drifts through phases – Gwenni being odd – missing person – child detective – family secrets but without any sense of the topics being well joined up.

 

 

for example, Bethan discovers that she is really Mr Evans’s daughter just days after he has been murdered, yet these two cataclysmic incidents seem to be totally unrelated

 

 

Is this a sign that the novel once had intentions of joining up various narrative threads but it just became too difficult to achieve? The end result is a little unsatisfying and the Mr Evans situation leaves gaping holes.

 

 

We are left with a clear implication, for example, that Mrs Evans didn’t murder her husband, despite her confession. The inference is that she is protecting someone. Yet that someone is not obvious. Who could be so important to her that she would orphan her children for his or her sake? Although there was a relationship between Gwenni’s mother and Mr Evans, and although Gwenni’s mother became strange the moment Mr Evans’s disappearance was announced, she seems not to have been involved.

 

 

And then we have the fox fur incident. This seems to be the catalyst (or is it?) for various people doing very odd and dramatic things. Things that seem not to be related to any of the aforementioned plotlines. Very strange.

 

But despite the serious questions thrown up by the plot, despite the irritation of the constant and unnecessary signposting of when characters were speaking English or Welsh, despite some timing difficulties, the novel did slip by easily. It was eminently readable, did paint a good picture of life in conservative Wales (perhaps owing a passing debt to How Green Was My Valley), and reading on was never a chore.

 

***00

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Yet that someone is not obvious.

 

It was

 

 

Catrin. On p.254 - I had to go and look - Gwenni suddenly realises what Catrin was doing when she hit the black dog with the poker. Gwenni realises now "why Mrs Evans confessed; it wasn't just Guto she wanted to save."

 

 

(Just a question - do we need to spoiler in a thread about a book we've finished?)

 

I found the ending unsatisfactory - that came back to me looking for that info above. Introducing the otherwise unseen Aunty Sian to tell the whole family history over a perm felt very contrived and lazy.

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(Just a question - do we need to spoiler in a thread about a book we've finished?).

It's done for the benefit of people who have not yet finished/read the book who might wander onto the thread for a general impression before deciding whether or not to read/continue with it.

 

Possibly some of the earlier spoilers are not strictly necessary, but I think the one in your post definitely is.

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But Minxminnie - your suggestion may be correct, but it also makes no narrative sense because

Catrin would be well under the age of legal responsibility and so would have suffered no sanction from the truth being told - in confidence - to the Sergeant. But by confessing, Elin ensured that both her girls would live as orphans and the stigma of a mother in prison for murder. It just doesn't feel right.

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Actually, to me this revelation doesn't make a lot of dramatic sense either. It's such an important part of the plot, but it's buried in a lot of waffle. I really think this book could have done with another draft. It's a shame, because some parts of it are really good.

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I'm a little late and with nothing much to add except that I agree with the 'almost there' nature of the book. It was both a 2/5 and a 4/5 with the good parts being really well done but with others needing serious editing and/or rework.

 

The good parts are the way that a particular period in Wales was well written. No details of the author's age are in the inner back flap but I guess she would have been about Gwenni's age at the time the book was set. Also, the 'murder-mystery' aspect of the novel.

 

On the downside, and I thought this but it wasn't crystallised until I read this thread: Gwenni is very well read and seemingly alert and intelligent but can also be pretty slow on the uptake, especially when she first sees Mrs Evans after her 'visit from the dentist'.

 

I'm not not convinced either way about her repetitive sayings and the family this and that. I liked them at first but they soon got to be an easy way of stating her emotions.

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I finally finished this today. It took a bit longer than it should have because I slowed down during the middle half which was a bit too much like hard work for me.

I agree with the other posters who found Gwenni immature. I think her naivete was well done but the faces in the distemper and the watching toby jugs was a bit too childlike. The other characters were, however, much better realised. I thought the mother and father were very well written and Bethan was a typical teenager.

I realised very early what had happened to Ifan Evans and who was responsible and thought that story arc was done well. I think that some of the family issues could have been developed or better resolved.

Nice final chapter though.

 

On the whole, a solid ***.

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I'm struggling slightly I have to confess.

 

It's not that I would be particularly negative about it but I enjoy reading books that keep me awake with anticipation and / or a rapidly evolving storyline - I find my eyelids drooping after about 20 minutes with this.

 

Still, I'm getting more sleep which is no bad thing I suppose.

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I read this almost as soon as I received it but haven't got round to posting. The problems that other readers had with Gwenni are not something I struggled with. Mainly because my mother is EXACTLY like her. Brought up in wales some time earlier than the story is set she has kept an incredible naivety, she is intelligent, outgoing and reasonably well read but still takes things very much at face value and simply doesn't see things that are outside her experience. The mother protecting her child was also something i understood,this seemed exactly the thing that she would do to avoid the stigma being directly attached to the child.

 

As a whole though i felt the book was lacking something, depth perhaps or maybe slightly tighter editing. Still a good read and an author to watch out for.

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Good to read the review by long-time member, occasional visitor but infrequent poster on BGO, Lizzy Siddal (it's aabout 6months since your last post, Lizzy :( ).

She addresses the question of Gwennie's immaturity in her blog, so those of you who had problems with that might like to see what Lizzy had to say about it.

It would be nicer to read it here, in this thread 'though.

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    • By Minxminnie
      Has anyone else started?

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