The Well and The Mine by Gin Phillips

“After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing that splash.”

It’s a striking opening, and it offers a mystery, but this book holds so much more. It’s a wonderful evocation of a period, a community and one family.

The story is set in a small town in Alabama during the depression of the early 1930s. And it is the family that brings that time and place to life.

Albert Moore is a miner. A good man, hard-working, and respected and loved by his peers. His wife, Leta, works equally hard at home, tending her children, her home and her vegetable garden. Times are hard and the family is poor, but, thanks to Albert and Leta’s efforts they are better off than many of their neighbours.

They have a young son, Jack, and two daughters. Virgie is the elder of the two, still a child but very nearly a woman, and she is beginning to see the world though different eyes. And Tess in nine-years old; very bright but definitely a child.

It is Tess, sitting on the porch, who sees a woman throwing a baby into the well. She and Virgie set out to uncover the identity of  the mystery woman, visiting and talking to friends and neighbours.

That builds a picture of the community. They see very different lives, greater poverty, and other children whose parents are unable to put enough food on the table.

And as the narration moves between the five members of the family a bigger picture emerges. Of the family, of the community, and of the times.

Such a story, with five narrators, could have been a mess. There were moments when I found the shifting times and perspectives difficult, but otherwise this book works beautifully. The drama is quiet, the details are lovely, and a vivid and very human story of good people coping in difficult times emerges.

The mystery isn’t the main focus, but it does provide a firm framework for the bigger story. And it is solved. Not with a big drama, but with a terribly sad human story – and that was exactly right.

I was drawn in, I cared, and I had to keep turning the pages.

A lovely, and accomplished, debut novel.

12 responses

    • I noticed the difference in covers. Possibly they didn’t want to emphasise the setting here as it has less resonance for British readers. Who knows? It’s a wonderul human story, and I think you’ll enjoy it. But don’t read too much into the spoon!

    • Hello Lauren, and thank you or your kind words. This is an inspiring book and I hope you enjot it when it gets to the head of the queue.

    • The setting wouldn’t have drawn me either Claire, but I saw some great reviews from bloggers I trust. And they were right!

  1. Although I visit your blog at least two or three times a week I managed to miss your review of this book when you posted it.
    I really, really loved this book and agree with everything you said. Is it me or is there something of the Atticus Finch about Albert?
    As it happens I went out yesterday and bought three copies of the book to give to my daughters and my younger son’s girlfriend as Easter presents because I feel that writing like this should be shared and encouraged. I really look forward to the next book by Gin Philips.

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