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2 May 2014

The Shaping of Water by Ruth Hartley

Ruth Hartley has produced a novel that covers a period in modern history that’s remembered for brutality and injustice. With our ability to reflect on those past events, there could be a sense of impending doom. Instead, the author has created an air of change – you could almost smell it in the air.

The story is told through the experiences of a number of women, all connected to the region of the Zambezi Valley and the man-made lake that shapes the water. Through their lives we witness the birth of new states and new regimes.

A common thread, violence and change aside, was the struggle to develop and nurture the earth – for gardens and for food. The determination to turn a patch of dust into something full of life and life-giving seemed a metaphor for the struggles in this land.

Whilst I wasn’t necessarily drawn to Charles and Margaret – the two main characters, I did feel the others were carefully crafted and complete. In particular, Jo and Marielise had a passion for their country and each other. That passion leapt from the pages. Perhaps the staidness of Charles and Margaret was a deliberate contrast?

With her wealth of knowledge, the author has created a piece of work that is immensely detailed. At first I was a little baffled by the movement of time – back and forth. But I decided to go with the flow, enjoy each chapter and accept that I would eventually find my place in time.

The book contains so much factual information that there were times when I found it a struggle to fathom the details. But this is a complex subject and perhaps it shouldn’t be an easy read – although occasionally I found the facts were being shared in a heavy-handed manner. This is the challenge of writing a novel based on such an involved topic but on balance, the author got it about right.

A little polish would have made this novel really sparkle, but it's still a gem.

Edited 17th May: I've thought long and hard about this wonderful book and feel I've been a little harsh with my four stars - so I'm delighted to 'up' my review to five stars. Yes, a little polish is needed here and there - but it is one of the best books I've read this year.

Available from Amazon.