Cry Down-River by John Pepper

Published on 14th February 2011 by Quartet Books, Cry Down-River is not your typical Valentine book even though it concerns one man’s love for a women, a love which spans decades.  Indeed, initially, I thought I was reading a work of fiction, given the literary quality of the writing and the story itself.

Cry Down-River is John Pepper’s hymn of love to Ruth, the love of his life, who meets a tragic end, drowning after her car is swept off a flooded road.  Ironically, Ruth thought she had drowned in a previous life and was, as a result, terrified of water all her life, refusing to go beyond paddling when on holiday.  The book takes the form of a letter from John to Ruth, a 171 page letter which brings us into their, at times, turbulent relationship.

OF THE EIGHTEEN YEARS , one month and thirteen days you and I were together, just over a hundred days only, three and a half months, were spent in unalloyed partnership.  The rest of the time we were in a complex weave of friendship, fall-out, separation, pining, rage, the mutual extending of succour and spiritual fellowship.

So, an unconventional relationship which is examined here in a searingly honest way, seeing life warts and all, revelling in both the physical and the philosophical.  John stayed “true” to Ruth even when she hitched up with other partners and just before her death they were probably at the zenith of their relationship, both having faced their demons and settled into a quiet happiness together.  Even so, their story is not one which wallows in melancholia, rather it ends up as an extremely uplifting account of love which the reader feels privileged to share.

Whilst reading Cry Down-River, I felt reminded of Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End, mainly due to the wit and frankness of  the author and because, like Diana, I feel he doesn’t really care much about what others think although he doesn’t go out of his way to hurt anyone.  As well as insights into his relationship with Ruth, we learn about John’s view of the world as a trained counsellor, psychotherapist and meditation tutor.  Not for the prudish, this is a very special story with its very own personality and as a reader, I felt very privileged to share John and Ruth’s story.

My thanks to Gavin from Quartet Books for sending me a copy of this book.

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