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==Synopsis of the book:==
Things are finally happening and changing in Fern's life. It is 1966 and she is a young women living with Mammy Cullen. Who are brought her up as her own daughter since she a little girl. Mammy practises the art of Midwifery and hedgerow medicines despite having no qualifications and not being able to either read or write. While Fern is learning from this amazing woman how to practice these skills.
As a result of the changing world Manny is finding less and less people in the village are using her services. As a result she has to wash, iron, bake cakes and pies to try and make ends meet. Their lives are altered and their routines interrupted when a group of Beatniks arrive and set up home just down the road from them. This starts a chain of events beginning with the death of a young woman who Mammy treated dying and the village turns against her.
After a fall Mammy's health starts to deteriorate and elderly lady is forced to go into hospital in Leicester. Now Fern is for the first time in her life is on her own and deal with the consequences of the girl's death. While trying to find her place and role within society. She must decide if she wishes to carry on Manny's traditions or learn formally the art of midwifery at night school.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
I thought this was a very good novel, it was superbly written and had me spell bound for the majority of it. The beauty of Joyce's work is it is always unusual and I at no time had a clue what the stories lead character Fern would do next or what would happen to her next.
I have read several of his books already. Which was the main reason why I selected this book. As I have read half a dozen of his already and always found them to be amazing reads and so different in both structure and content from most other writers. Experience has taught me his books his stories make me think and in my view are thought proving as well.
That for me is one of the aspects I really enjoy about Joyce's books. The fact you take a subject you think you know about and he puts them in a totally different and new light. I found after reading this I was desperate to talk to someone who had read it and share thoughts about it.
I really like the way the author writes to a certain degree about what he knows. I cannot tell you what he knows about hedgerow medicines but I do know he grew up and still lives in the Midlands and he was brought up in the 1960's. For me and because of the depth of his knowledge this adds so weight to the story and it seems so authentic and you believe in his story and the characters within it.
My mind was easily made up to read this one on my very high opinion of his work alone, so when I saw it in the library I didn't have to think twice about it. For good measure I read the short was detailed summary of the story on the back cover of the book. The entire concepts that were presented to me impressed me; I liked the idea of these two women on the outer fringes of society dealing with the changing world.
In all probability many would class Mammy a witch, but I thought an insight into what she did and how she did it would be fascinating and so it proved. Plus the summary also wetted the reader's taste buds with the elements of change and a chain of events that began with the beatnik's arrival that was to change Fern's life forever. I must admit following this I could not wait to read it.
The story began with a prologue, which for me is the correct way to start any novel. However although this was interesting and a good opening to the story it was very short at just one page in length. I would have liked more background on both Mammy and Fern, but it was certainly better than nothing.
Initially I found this novel a little bit of a struggle to get into and relate to. The reason for this was Mammy was so unusual in her outlook and her way of doing things I did struggle to understand her. For example when she helped deliver a baby, she would not ask for money the tradition was for it to be left on the mantelpiece for her and rather than charging it was left to the family to decide what they felt she deserved.
However as the story developed I found myself getting more involved and enjoying it. Especially when it involved Fern, as she appeared more vulnerable. I found it a treat that at no time in the story did I have the remotest idea of what was going to happen next, so everything was a surprise. As a result I felt both sympathy and empathy for both Fern and Mammy, as you knew things were going to start to happen and you weren't sure if they would be good or bad.
What I think really improved the story and it probably sounds very cruel of me to say so, was when Mammy was taken to hospital. It gave Fern the opportunity to take centre stage, as Mammy was a powerful and knowledgeable old lady, Fern was very much in her shadow. It was good to see her handle things without the wise woman to help her as in some ways she was clever herself while in others she was as innocent as a child.
I found some of the situations she got into amazing whether they were good or bad. Sometimes I found I admired her spirit and her courage to having her life turned upside down while at others you wondered where her common sense was. But all this time despite her setbacks I was always completely on her side, even though at times she made matters a lot worse for herself.
It seemed she really didn't know who her friends were and those that tried or wanted to help she pushed away. The author had a really clever way of injecting mystery into everything that involved Fran and as a result you were never sure if magic was involved and if she had that ability.
I found the general pace of the book to be steady. There was always something happening and never a dull moment. Towards the end of it the pace increased towards what was for me an exciting conclusion. And in keeping with the mystery and suspense that preceded it I still did not have a clue how is would all end up. All I will say is the ending matched my expectations and was in keeping with the quality of the story itself.
What impressed me with this story was the depth of knowledge the author had for hedgerow medicine. Not only that but he was able to express and explain all about the various solutions and how they were put together. To me he sounded a real expert on the subject but in reality he probably just spent hours researching the subject. Not only that I liked the way he kept a very balanced story involving it, I think it would have been easy to dismiss the subject but he presented it in a fair light. Leaving the reader to make his or her own mind on the subject.
However there is a but in my review. It was at an important stage of the story and I could not understand what was happening and what Fern was doing. It was explained what was happening but I couldn't find any clues as to why it was happening and was it a dream or was it real and why at this point in time? For me it was a real shame and put a dampener on what I read and I didn't see the need for this scene and it really confused me.
Fern was the books main character and probably the main reason why I enjoyed the book so much. She was so unusual and I liked the way she acted in strange unexpected ways that at times I admired and other I despaired with her. I think the author really used his excellent imagination when dealing with her character and personality, and that went toward making her such a wonderful leading role.
Mammy for was the other main character in the story. She had such a powerful and domineering personality, she really was larger than life. I liked her no nonsense approach to everything that happened around her and her amazing knowledge of remedies was breathtaking. I did think she had to leave centre stage so that Fern's story could be told and that she could grow as an individual in her own right. Even though I did on occasions struggle to understand her terminology and immediate know what she was talking about.
I thought all the characters Joyce created were fascinating. They were well described and the author managed to make them all unique in different ways, so that you always remembered them when they re-emerged in the story. And while the Beatniks did not play anywhere near the role I thought they would, I did enjoy their amazing personalities and their unusual outlook on life.
For me this novel had almost everything you could possibly want in a story. It was a bit of a love story, with a touch of humour along the way. It was also a very up and down story reflecting Fern's life in which mystery and magic played a key role. When I finished the book I was really satisfied that I had read a really well thought out and exciting story.
The length of the novel was comparatively short but still long enough to tell a superb story. I was surprised and disappointed that the story did not have an epilogue especially as it started with a prologue. I thought this was an oversight as it would really have liked to know what happened afterwards to the books main characters, instead I will have to satisfy myself with my own imagination.
I thought this was another first class and very enjoyable story by a very talented storywriter. It was a subject I knew little about but I felt it was explained in a rational and unbiased way. For me Fern was the highlight of the story an amazing and captivating character. Certainly this is a book that I would recommend as I found it both engaging and thought provoking.
Price: £5.49 New at Amazon
About the author: www.grahamjoyce.net
@CPTDANIELS May 2010