Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers by Mari Strachan

I hesitated before I picked up Blow on A Dead Man’s Embers.

You see, I have yet to get past the opening pages of The Earth Hums in B Flat, Mari Strachan’s previous novel. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, it was that the book just didn’t hold me.

But there was something about this new book – the title, the concept, the cover – I just had to pick it up.

I am so glad that I did. I was swept away by the story of one woman, her life, her family, her times …

I was captivated by Non, a complex and utterly real woman, from the very first page.

At the heart of the story is Non’s relationship with her husband. Davey has come back from the Great War, and he is not the same man who left:

“… not sharing a marriage any more, not sharing conversation and laughter, their hopes and dreams, their fears. She grieves for her Davey, who had loved her, and whom she had loved in return, she grieves for him as if he were dead. More than if he were dead. She may have been defeated by the mystery of what haunts this Davey, by the puzzle of what he has become, but she has no idea how to begin to fight back, how to begin to find the Davey who loved her …”

The portrayal of a man, damaged and changed by his experiences, and a woman, trying to understand, trying to make things better, was pitch perfect. And the story was intriguing, moving in unexpected directions and revealing truths that were quite unexpected. So clever.

And that story was part of a bigger story. A family story. Three generations of Davey’s family and Non’s family. So many characters, simply and yet distinctively drawn, and each with their own story. Those stories took in so much. Love, loss, identity, coming of age, growing old, coming to terms ….

More unexpected directions, more unexpected truths.

And through those stories Mari Strachan paints a wonderful picture of a community, and of an era.

Everything was so real, so distinctive, so utterly believable.

I was completely caught up, believing in these people, and caring about what happened to them.

There are so many details that I would love to write about, but I’m not going to. Because revelations, of characters, of histories, of relationships, come gradually in the book, and that works so very well that I wouldn’t want to spoil it even a little.

And so all I can add is that Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers is a fine, fine piece of storytelling.

It held me from start to finish, and even now that I have put the book down I am still captivated …

9 responses

  1. Oh, I didn’t know Mari Strachen had written another book. Thanks for the tip-off, I loved The Earth Hums in B Flat and this one sounds every bit as good.

  2. I feel the same about The Earth Hums in B Flat and I think it’s because it’s written in the present tense. I see from your extract that this one is as well, but it does look very interesting – I like stories that sweep me away!

    I’m not keen on the present tense but I did love Wolf Hall (also present tense), so maybe I shouldn’t let it put me off.

  3. The most compelling thing for me about The Earth Hums in B Flat was her superb characterisations. She caught to perfection the voice of the slightly fey and imaginative girl who has always been shunted aside by her mother…indeed, all the villagers rang true. It sounds as though she has done it again. I hope you can get past the first page or so of B Flat one day. I found it a special read…it was one of my top reads a year or so ago. Thanks for this review – going on the hunt for it now!

  4. Since I absolutely adored The Earth Hums in B Flat and pressed it on absolutely everyone I thought would appreciate it, I have been looking forward to reading this since I first read about it.
    Your review makes me want to go out and get it now but since the library still doesn’t have a copy, it looks as though I am going to have to wait until it comes out in regular paperback . Either that or invest in the large format which is rather pricier than I usually buy.

  5. I’m about to start Earth Hums in B Flat, which is my book group book – I’m encouraged by what you say about her next novel (which I hadn’t realised existed)

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