Published 11th March 2015, Text Publishing
Ever heard the call of nature? No, I don’t mean the loo for crying out loud – trees, the countryside, that sort of thing. I’ve always wanted a little cottage with a parlour and a lavender garden and bees and enough land for a cow and a donkey and chickens and a couple of pigs. It’s not too much to ask is it? The difficulty of course is deciding what colour to paint the donkey cart for riding into town with. Have I said too much? I’ve said too much. Let’s get on with it.
Catherine Chanter has crafted a masterful moody mystery with The Well. This luscious rural property’s secrets slowly unfold as the shady dealings of the past are related to us by Ruth, guarded in the cottage under house arrest. But what has Ruth done? Where is her husband, Mark? And her daughter, Angie? What happened to her grandson, Lucien? And where are the Sisters of the Rose?
The Well is seemingly the perfect tree-change for Ruth and Mark, a couple hoping to save their strained marriage. It is full of life and water and rain surrounded by an entire nation in drought. And while I called it a mystery, abundant water and daily rain hemmed in by a property line is an inexplicable magical element in an otherwise non-fantastical world.
It is no surprise that as the drought goes on, neighbourhood resentment and suspicion increases, and the media, hippy types and the creepily religious are drawn in*. The story that follows descends into the murky realms of relationship breakdown, social exclusion and religious mania. And I do mean murky. Whenever an answer swims into view it is still veiled by the doubt in Ruth’s own memories.
Another theme that seems to permeate is the relative invisibility of middle-aged women in modern society. The gender-hostile Sisters of the Rose hold up The Well and Ruth as sacred and with that, perhaps an irresistible chance to become visible, relevant again. Although, I may be gleaning too much.
It is difficult to say much more without ruining the journey. The questions and the answers are strewn throughout. If you’re one of those who likes to skip to the end, good luck with that. You can’t cheat with this one. You’ll just have to read it properly like any well-behaved person.
*I do wonder if the tale of drought behind The Well rings differently in an Australian reader’s mind as something we endure so much more of.