Highlights in the Charts
By Cassie Waters and Halimah Haque
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
Claire Fuller’s latest novel, which was shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize and won the 2021 Costa Book Awards, offers a passionate and powerful look at rural life, modernity and the secrets that every family holds.
Jeanie and Julius Seeder are fifty-one-year-old twins who have spent their whole lives in a decrepit cottage with their mother, Dot, living hand to mouth without the conveniences of the modern world. Jeanie stays for her health, as she’s been told that she has a heart condition, and Julius stays to look after his mother and sister.
Together, they have been mostly happy, playing folk music and enjoying the bounty from their garden – until Dot dies, and their whole world and everything they thought they knew disintegrates.
Less than a week after their mother’s death, the twins find themselves faced with eviction from the only home they have ever known and forced to confront the fact that the Dot they knew may not have been who she truly was.
Unsettled Ground intelligently unpacks the trappings of modern life and reveals the hopelessness of Jeanie and Julius’ situation. Without a mobile phone or bank account and with a limited ability to read and write, Jeanie’s hopes of obtaining a job and a sense of independence from her brother are slight. Meanwhile, Julius feels confined by the secluded life he has been living and begins to stray from his interdependent relationship with his sister to pursue a romantic relationship with someone in the village.
Fuller's novel is an angry and fierce rejection of modernity, and a testament to familial bonds and how our family history shapes us.
The Couple at No. 9 by Claire Douglas
In her new novel, Claire Douglas explores a young couple’s worst nightmare. A pregnant Saffron Cutler and her boyfriend Tom uncover two bodies while renovating their new family home. With forensics identifying the bodies to have been buried at least thirty years prior, the police are led to question the cottage’s former owner – Saffron’s grandmother, Rose.
The Couple at No. 9 truly keeps you at the edge of your seat, maintaining a suspenseful atmosphere through Saffron’s paranoia of constantly being watched and her grandmother’s fragmented memories. Douglas does a brilliant job of both sensitively depicting Rose’s Alzheimer’s and using it to her advantage by mentioning a new name whenever someone sparks a new conversation with her. Not only did this highlight the difficulties of communicating with an Alzheimer’s patient, but also the frustration that someone suffering from such a disease often experiences.
With a relatable and likeable couple at the forefront of the novel, Douglas forces her readers to put themselves in Saffron and Tom’s shoes, knowing exactly when to reveal information and surprise us along the way. From the continuous twists and turns to the simple yet fitting title, The Couple at No. 9 is a book that I can’t recommend enough!