Mari Strachan - Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers (3 stars)

Historical between-the-wars family drama with an eye for detail

Mari Strachan - Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers


Life, thinks Non Davies, a rural housewife in the mid-Wales of 1920, is like a tablecloth: ‘smooth and rough, worn thin so that it is almost a hole in places.’ It’s a prosaic description from a woman who presents a similarly functional façade to the world, her feelings internalised within a warmly descriptive and leisurely paced third-person narrative. And there’s a lot of emotion to get out. Davies is married to widower Davey, a veteran returned from the Great War amidst the announcement of his apparent affair with a nurse who treated him, and the sinister fog of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Non, in turn, raises Davey’s children and dwells on her own near-infidelity. Strachan, the author of The Earth Hums in B Flat, offers a general purpose historical family saga. But it’s one that’s dressed up with crisp narrative ability, a non-judgmental eye for the often irreconcilable complexities of love, and no small amount of mystery to strengthen the blend.

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