Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume Review

spill-simmer-walter-witherReleased: October 2015

At the onset of Spill Simmer Falter Wither it’s not clear why Ray adopts the dog, One Eye. As the story progresses through the first section it soon becomes obvious that Ray needs a friend, mainly because he’s something of an outcast in his village, has been lonely for some time and needs someone to talk to. He builds an incredible relationship with the disabled and distrustful One Eye, possibly because he sees himself mirrored in the dog. There’s never any doubt that Ray has a very lowly image of himself and of humanity and can understand One Eye’s mistrust.

But this is much more than a story about the relationship between a man and his dog. This is a wonderfully descriptive journey around Ireland from the wild coastline into the heart of the forest and back out to the coast again. The novel splits into four sections, each one dealing with a different season. Along the way and in between rambles through the countryside and the changing seasons, Ray relates the story of his 57 years so far to his first and only friend, One Eye.

As they progress on their journey together Ray’s poignant narrative evokes a strong sense of his self-image and how he perceives others see him. Despite the fact that he’s ugly and unschooled, he’s eloquent and intelligent and expresses himself so perceptively and honestly that it’s impossible not to feel warmly towards him. It soon becomes clear he may not be the Troll he appears to be.

The novel splits perspectives as Ray becomes ever closer to One Eye and tries to imagine the dog’s previous life as a ratter and badger baiter. I found some of these sections difficult to read but I thought they built up a stronger connection with One Eye for the reader and this is necessary as he isn’t the most likeable dog in the world. That’s probably what I found most appealing about this book. It takes a lot of skill to create characters that aren’t just real, but are likeable despite and because of the many faults they have. Baume has achieved this very successfully. The novel rightly deserves all the praise it has received so far as it’s a really worthwhile read. The pace rarely falters and Baume very skilfully builds a sense of mystery and suspense as the story unfolds.

I always enjoy a challenging read but I have to say I did find this novel slightly tough going at times, mainly because of its grittily honest content. I was relieved when this particular journey came to an end and was pleased that the characters seemed to have grown so much and gained from their experiences on the road.

★★★★

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