Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller #UnsettledGround @ClaireFuller2 @FigTreePenguin @PenguinUKBooks #BookReview #AudioBook #RachelBavidge

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Published: 25 March 2021

Author: Claire Fuller

Published by: Fig Tree

Genre: Literary Fiction

Length: 304 pages / 9 hrs 29 minutes

Reading dates: 12-18 February 2023

When you live on the edge of society, it only takes one step to fall between the cracks

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

Unsettled Ground is a powerful novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.

Unsettled Ground opens with Dot, waking in the early hours and not feeling well. When they wake twins Jeanie and Julius find her dead on the kitchen floor. Jeanie and Julius are 51 years old and have lived with their mother all their life in a delipidated cottage, growing their own food, living off grid, and eking out a living by selling some of their vegetables to the deli in town or from odd jobs Julius is able to get. Jeanie has a weak heart as the result of rheumatic fever and as a result didn’t get a proper education and is unable to read or write. Julius is unable to travel far in vehicles on account of his extreme travel sickness so both have stuck close to Dot at home.

They find they have to navigate the administrative tasks related to her death and before long, the secrets that Dot held come to the surface. They find Dot owed money to several people and that they are behind on the rent in their cottage which they’d always believed was rent free since the violent death of their father 40 years previously. They have no money of their own and can barely even afford to feed themselves. Finding themselves threatened with eviction, they have to accept the help of Dot’s friend Bridget who is a bit of a busy body but ultimately has a good heart.

We hear from both twins but Jeanie’s voice was the one I found most enthralling. Despite her weak heart she finds strength to overcome every hurdle in her way. She manages to even find a small gardening job but is unable to cash the cheques she gets paid with because she hasn’t a bank account. Julius continues to do odd jobs for cash, suggests they should bury Dot in their garden to avoid the costs of a funeral and starts a relationship of sorts with a local woman.

I wish I had studied literature so I could explain properly just how brilliant this book is. Sometimes you just read a book and every word is perfection but I can’t explain why. It is an absolutely heart-breaking read – not only are the twins grieving their mother they seem to be kicked at every turn, realising because they aren’t in the “system” the aren’t able to claim help. Some people are kind while others take advantage of them. They are proud and resilient and are both talented musicians and they find solace in their music.

The strength of the Unsettled Ground lies in the authors portrayal of Jeannie and Julius and it is a beautifully written and memorable novel.

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Claire’s books – Our Endless Numbered Days (predates blog); Swimming Lessons and Bitter Orange. She has a new book, The Memory of Animals due out on 20th April 2023 and I can’t wait to read it!

With thanks to Fig Tree for my proof copy and apologies it took me so long to get to!

About the author

Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller is the author of Unsettled Ground (2021), winner of the Costa Novel Award and shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Bitter Orange (2018), Swimming Lessons (2017), which was shortlisted for the Encore Prize for second novels, and Our Endless Numbered Days (2015) which won the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction.

Website: www.clairefuller.co.uk
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClaireFuller2


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