Reviewing Barney Norris’ Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

My reading goal is to never be that person who discounts a whole genre because they think they are better than it but literary fiction is something I never read much of. Usually this is because when I have the choice of reading about a murder being solved and anything else, the murder wins. So when I received a proof copy of Barney Norris’ Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain it wasn’t at the top of my reading list and I wasn’t expecting it to be as entertaining or as gripping as a whodunit.

As I mentioned in my last post, I genuinely know nothing and anything because I couldn’t put this book down.

Before I start my review I do want to say that this isn’t the final cover for the book. The final cover has been released and it is stunning.

One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower – all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.

The book is separated into sections and we meet the five of these characters one by one and we learn about the tragedies and triumphs in their very ordinary (and therefore extraordinary) lives. Each character’s voice is so different from the other – I found myself being swept up in the narrative, relishing what I was reading. Norris brilliantly explored the characters’ different natures and what I really loved was discovering how they were all connected to each other. It was a slow process and only once did all of them meet at the same time. Otherwise it’s passing comments and small mentions which showed just how intertwined, and really very separate, they all were.

Five Rivers takes place over a good few months and by the end of it each character has progressed hugely from there they started. Only for some is this a good thing. It is as if we see a short series of pictures for each character and nothing more because no one’s story feels concluded – they are all still living their lives.

Out of the five characters – Rita, Sam, George, Alison, and Liam – it was Liam’s passages I liked the least. He bookends the story and I genuinely couldn’t care less especially when I read his first chapter. I remember thinking to myself that if the book carried on like this I would quietly out it away and never speak of it again. But after a short chapter we are in Rita’s story and I was hooked. Liam’s concluding chapter was better – you understand how he also links in with the other four but I didn’t find his story as powerful as that of Rita’s or Alison or George’s or even Sam’s. And I loved George and Alison’s section’s particularly though special mention has to go to Rita’s section – I just wished that was how the book started rather than with Liam going on about Salisbury.

This book is so brilliant because it is about normal everyday people doing normal everyday things and how the small and large tragedies we face every day shape us. Norris’ writing is so, for want of anything better, WOW, his understanding and depth has made Five Rivers a book I am recommending to everyone, even if I didn’t like the first and last chapters.

I also think this book would be amazing as an audio book – I would love to hear those characters come to life.

Five Rivers is out in hardback in April. I received the book for free. My review is definitely my own and neither it nor my opinions haven’t been swayed by the free book swag.

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