Haweswater by Sarah Hall

In the early 1930s the Haweswater Dam was built to help to meet the increasing demand for water in the increasingly industrialised north of England.

And so a valley was flooded. And two villages – Measand and Marsdale Green – were destroyed.

The price of progress is high. Landscapes, communities and homes, all lost.

And Sarah Hall brings all of this back to life, using words oh so beautifully. Images of farming communities, whose lives follow ways established generations ago, are sent against the rising tide of industrialisation, modernisation, and the demands that they bring.

And then there’s the human story, a story that lays bare the emotional consequences of the flooding of the valley.

Sam and Ella Lightburn have both lived there for all their lives. They have two children. A grown daughter, Janet, and a young son, Isaac. The family farm and the surrounding countryside makes up the very fabric of their lives. They know nothing else. They want nothing else.

But change is inevitable.

Jack Liggett is sent by Manchester City Waterworks to supervise the construction of the dam and oversee the evacuation of the valley. He appreciates the countryside and the community that he is come to, but he cannot save them.

And so the stage is set.

The characters are lightly painted, but it is enough. It is the emotions that are important, and they are vivid and utterly real.

Janet, young, headstrong and desperate to save her home, is drawn to Jack, who must destroy it. A relationship grows, and deepens as the water levels rise and villagers begin to leave their homes.

It is quite impossible not to be entranced by the story that unfolds.

But it is clear from the start that this is a tragedy, and the building of the dam would have consequences that were utterly heartbreaking.

But there was a glimmer of hope – and a new local legend was born.

It is rare to find such wonderful images created and such wonderful storytelling inside a single book.

Haweswater really is an extraordinarily accomplished debut novel.


And thank you Laura for inspiring me to pull this one off the shelf.

13 responses

    • Isn’t it lovely. If only the book had facedoutwards on the library shelf I would have picked it up ages ago!

    • I hadn’t thought of this for Ana’s challenge – I was planning books written in the period – but you are quite right!

  1. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed this one too! I bought a copy of this after loving How to Paint a Dead Man last year. I used to live in the Lake District so am hoping the connection will make this book even have an even stronger connection for me.

    • I didn’t finish How to Paint a Dead Man – I will one day but it wasn’t the right moment and so I took it back to the library. This had quite a different feel and it has inspired me to dig out Sarah Hall’s other books.

  2. Sarah Hall has been a friend for most of my life. Well, okay, not the same Sarah Hall, but it did catch my attention! Now I’ll have to find the book 🙂

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