“It is hard to rewrite your own history”.
Jeannie and Julius Seeder are twins who live in rural isolation deep in the heart of Oxfordshire. Their music is their solace. Julius does go out to work doing odd jobs and is the more robust of the twins. Jeannie suffered from rheumatic fever as a child and was kept out of school a lot. As a result she is almost illiterate and their tiny, rundown cottage is the only world she has ever known.
When their mother dies, they learn that the family have many outstanding debts, and no way to pay them. This sends them both on a precipitous downward spiral which leaves them homeless and shocked to learn some long-held family secrets.
The twins, along with their mother were accomplished folk musicians. Dot, the mother, played banjo, while Julius accompanied her on his fiddle and Jeanie played guitar.
I’m always drawn to books that feature eccentric characters and this one really delivered in that aspect. The protagonists in this novel live on the fringes of society, or more accurately on the dust held by the fringes of society.
Most of us cannot fathom their isolation and their abject poverty, but both of these things are not of great importance to either of them. The twin brother and sister are fifty-one years old at the time of their mother’s death. This event changes their isolated and sheltered world to such an extent both physically and emotionally, that they flounder – and understandably so.
When they are made homeless, Julius seeks independence and a ‘life’ outside their insular world, while Jeanie wants only to preserve their former existence. When the late Dot’s secrets are revealed, Jeanie is most profoundly impacted.
This is definitely not an uplifting story. It is a tale of hardship, of poverty, injustice, and perseverance. Of living an austere life; of opportunities missed, and of pride. The tale is told with vivid imagery, a few of which scenes will remain with me for a very long time.
To say I enjoyed this book seems wrong because of the many distressing circumstances described within it. Yet to say that I did not enjoy it would be a lie. The writing was astounding and I was completely immersed in Jeanie’s story and had great sympathy for her plight. So yes, I would definitely recommend this novel, though you might have to be in the right frame of mind to do so. This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from
House of Anansi via NetGalley. I enjoyed this book SO much that I decided to RE-post this review to coincide with the publication in North America by Tin House Books.
Claire Fuller is an award-winning novelist and short fiction writer. She studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, then began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency. She has a Masters (distinction) in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Winchester. She lives in Winchester, England with her husband, and a cat called Alan. She has two grown-up children.
Her three published novels: Our Endless Numbered Days (winner of the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction), Swimming Lessons (shortlisted for the Encore prize for second novels, and Livre de Poche prize in France), and the critically acclaimed Bitter Orange (longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award), have all been published by Fig Tree / Penguin (UK), Tin House (US), and House of Anansi (Canada). They have been translated into more than 15 languages.