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A short and captivating tale by the much loved Irish storyteller, John Boyne. First novella in his 'Elements' series.

- best book club reads - 





Den scores




165 mages

‘Water’ by John Boyne is the author’s first instalment of his Elements series. Written by the master of storytelling including the Den’s much loved ‘The Hearts Invisible Furies’ readers and bookclubbers will be consumed by this immersive tale that can easily be read in one sitting.

Written in the first person, ‘Water’ is a short and captivating story about a woman who arriving on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, changes her name to Willow Hale to escape Dublin and all recognition from her previous life, choosing to live as a hermit in a small cottage. Her first act is to cut away at her hair. This is an alarming start to the novella but one that the reader cautiously accepts because we are in Vanessa’s head and absorbed by her vulnerability, her heightened emotions of guilt, anger and sadness, hanging onto a secret that she is shamed to share but one we know we will discover as the story unfolds.

Vanessa tries her best to appear as an anonymous loner within the island’s small isolated community. However she can’t evade what little there is and all those who frequent the old pub, the new pub, the church and the island’s grocery store. Vanessa is welcomed by the local priest and this takes her back to life with her husband and family and through this encounter the reader discovers flashbacks allowing us to understand her backstory and what it is that she is running away from.

Whilst access to the mainland is limited Vanessa is not completely disconnected from her old life and this is a reminder of her sadness and unhappiness, with texts giving us some impression of her broken relationship with Rebecca, one of her daughters.

Vanessa also has a series of events and chance meetings on the island that help provide some perspective on her past as well as liberating and enabling her to be more independent and care-free - culminating in a noticeable change of character - unexpected hope and a sense of new beginnings.

Whilst there is a deep and traumatic undercurrent to ‘Water’, the Den enjoyed Vanessa’s new found inner strength of identity, confidence and bravery surviving a life changing trauma, as well as a respect for the curious and intriguing islanders that enrich her life and the story.

For those who are eager for more the next instalment, ‘Earth’ is already published for keen fans of Boyne's work. A series you won't want to miss out on!

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