The title is well chosen. From the first page, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller is unsettling. An eclectic mixture of setting and detail make the timeframe difficult to pin down, it seems other-worldly. An ordinary world, but not quite. This is a world of Google and internet banking, of smartphones and digital life.
Fuller writes about twins Julius and Jeanie who, aged 51, still live with their mother in a remote rural cottage. They scratch a living, cash-in-hand earned from odd jobs, vegetables and eggs sold at the garden gate and the local deli, money kept in a tin rather than a bank account. Everything changes when their mother, Dot, dies suddenly and they realise how she protected them and kept them safe. But with Dot gone, their familiar world collapses. Their routines don’t work, the difficulties their mother smoothed are now rocky, and they are evicted from their home.
This is a novel about relationships – sibling, parental and with the local community – both supportive and dismissive. As the twins attempt to cope with the paperwork following their mother’s death, their isolation from modern society becomes evident to them. Many people step aside from their helplessness, finding them strange and ignorant, people make assumptions and take the easy option of turning away. Jeanie is mortified to find out that other people know more about her life and family history than she does, how neighbours silently colluded in a scenario either from a sense of helplessness, a misguided assumption they are helping, or malicious sniggering. Unsettled Ground is an uncomfortable but at the same time uplifting read.
As Julius and Jeanie confront each revelation about the life they have been living, they begin to question each other’s loyalty. Jeanie finds emotional strength she didn’t know she had, despite a heart complaint she’s had since childhood. She sneaks back home and finds solace in the abandoned garden, harvesting vegetables. This is an uncomfortable depiction of modern poverty in a society where money exchange is cashless and application for help depends on literacy. Both find a way to cope but inevitably they need each other despite their grumbles and disagreements. At times of stress, they pick up their guitars and sing folk songs as their parents taught them.
When the truth slowly emerges about their father’s accidental death and Dot’s subsequent struggle as a single mother, they realise that deep down they had always had suspicions. This is a powerful story about the strength of human nature and the bonds of family, about fighting back against bullies and finding light in the future.
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UNSETTLED GROUND by @ClaireFuller2 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5a0 via @SandraDanby