I took this on holiday with me last week, but did not get my hands on it until we were almost on our way home as my daughter annexed it. She handed it back with the comment 'Mum this is great you will love it'. Well, it is and I did.
Gwenni Morgan is a young girl living in a small Welsh town in the 1950s. She has a gift. She can fly in her sleep, but has to keep this to herself as her mother already thinks she is 'odd' and does not want the neighbours to find out about this eccentricity.
"I soared into a sky that wrapped me in air as light and warm as an eiderdown....I hovered above the town's higgledy-piggledy houses. They clung to their streets as if they might roll all the way down to the sea and fall in if they let go"
This is on the first page and I was immediately charmed and my attention captured - a feeling of familiarity crept over me and I could not explain why until a few pages on the penny dropped. It reminded me of the opening of Under Milk Wood, the same mysterious view of a sleeping town at night (this feeling becomes even stronger when I discover one of the characters in Mari Strachan's novel is a Mr Pugh....)
I was further beguiled by the delightful Gwenni when she looks at her books: "Heidi......Anne of Green Gables that I make Alwenna read so that she can see we're Kindred Spirits and right next to it Anne of Avonlea ..... I hug it to me. Anne's hair is red and wild like mine....here is Little Woman and Good Wives; I cry each time Beth dies and Mam says "Don't be silly Gwenni'
You can see why I become very fond of Gwenni very quickly.
Apart from her flying at night, Gwenni lives an ordinary life, going to school, helping Mrs Evans look after her children, attending Sunday School, giggling and gossiping with her best friend Alwenna - until one night when flying she sees: "a man floating in the Baptismal Pool near the reservoir - a man floating with his arms outstretched and the moon drowning in his eyes....the fright plummeted me back in my bed".
A few days later the town is full of the news that Ifor Evans has disappeared and his body is later discovered just where Gwenni saw it - he has been murdered. Does Gwenni have the power of seeing the future as well as flying? She is fond of detective stories and decides to see if she can solve the crime, but becomes embroiled in subterfuge and secrets gradually discovering that some of these secrets are closer to home that she imagines and that truth is sometime better kept hidden.
Gwenni is a simply delightful creation. She is sparky, wise, mature beyond her years and is a loving daughter though it is clear that her mother finds her a difficult and unlovable child. Because the story is told from Gwenni's viewpoint, the reader can fully enter into her puzzlement and bewilderment at the strains and stresses within the family and I was totally on her side all the way through. By the time I had finished The Earth hums n B flat I was full of admiration by her clear-eyed acceptance of what she had discovered.
I don't want you thinking this is a dark, gloomy book because it isn't. There were times when I laughed out loud at Gwenni's backchat with her parents and friends, nothing seems to squash her and she always has to have the last word. Her flights of imagination are wonderful and the way Mari Strachan has entered into a child's view of her life is spot on.
The press release which came with my copy of the book contains the following quotes:
"A richly evocative, warm but unsentimental tale"; "this is a marvellously comic thriller, full of acute observation and beautifully lit by a train of wild and poetic imagination"
Mari Strachan splits her time between Wales and a narrow boat on the Grand Canal in London, where much of The Earth Hums in B flat was written. I sincerely hope that she holes up on the canal as soon as possible and produces book No. 2. When she does, I will be waiting.