Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

The idea was intriguing, but it was the opening that captured me.

A woman driving, desperate to escape her past, with her two daughters who were much less certain about whether they should go, whether they should leave the only home they had ever known.

Amity & Sorrow HBK dark.inddAfter four days they stopped. Because, and only because, Amaranth crashed the car. She had no money and no idea what to do. A local farmer found them. He noticed their strange dress, their rather old-fashioned manners, but he didn’t comment. He didn’t want to get involved. But he did agree they can stay on his land just for a few days.

Amaranth was fleeing a cult, its temple was being destroyed by fire. She was the first of the fifty wives of the prophet, and mother of two daughters. Amity and Sorrow. Sorrow has a special place at their temple. She was the oracle, the one heard and then spoke the word of God. Amity had no such status, but she was good hearted, and she had a gift for healing.

Two stories unfold. The story of how Amaranth became the wife of the prophet, and all that followed. And the story of how she left and what followed.

The narrative which moves fluidly between the present and
the past, and though the story is harrowing it is told with sensitivity and understanding.

It offers much to think about.

Mother and daughters were pulling in different directions.  Amaranth wanted a new life but couldn’t let go of her memories and her old concerns. Amity wanted to leave the past behind, once and for all. And all Sorrow wanted to go back, and stay in the place where she new she belonged.

Amity and Sorrow had to cope with a world different to everything they knew. They had never spoken with anyone outside the extended family that grew around their father, the prophet before. They have never handled money, never been to school, never walked in the country.

There were so many things that their life had not prepared them for. And yet they had such faith in the world. That faith was a welcome counter-balance to many disturbing truths that would emerged.

It worked because, for all the strangeness of the situation, the characters, their dialogues and their actions rang completely true.

The story unfolded slowly, growing in depth and complexity, and it pulled me in completely.

I came to understand what had drawn Amaranth in to the cult, why she had stayed, and in the end why she had to leave.

The style, just a little formal, a little odd, suited the story perfectly. And the balance, between what was told and what needed to be worked out, was exactly right.

The story asked some difficult questions, and the final chapters offered a fitting conclusion but no easy answers.

But I don’t have the words to explain, and I don’t want to explain. If you’re at all curious you really should find a copy of this book and consider them too.

Because the words that do come into my mind are these: a distinctive and thought-provoking first novel.

9 responses

    • It’s not a comfortable read but an interesting one and I’m very curious to see where Peggy Riley goes from her. An author to watch, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t see her name on the longlist for the Womens’ Fiction Prize.

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