Blow on A Dead Man’s Embers – Mari Strachan

Blow on a Dead Man's Embers

Published
04/08/2011

Publisher
Canongate Books Ltd

My Rating – 4.5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Mari Strachan’s first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat, set in rural Wales in the 1950s with its unforgettable 12 and a bit narrator, Gwenni.  Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers is set in an earlier era, it is 1921 and Non (Rhiannon) knows she should be relieved to have her husband Davey safely returned from the Great War where so many perished.  Davey might be physically present but Non worries about his emotional and mental state and she is determined to “fix” him and make him whole again even if it means subterfuge on her part. 

This is such a beautifully written story peopled with vibrant, interesting characters.  I felt like I really got to know Non and her step-children including the quiet, reticent Osian and the wilful, teenage Meg.  I felt immersed in the intensity of the interminable heatwave assailing the small Welsh village and its inhabitants and the fact I was also brought up in a tiny, remote village made the characters resonate with me even more.   Life is hard, the laundry is never-ending but there is little for it but to just get by the best one can.  However it’s not all doom and gloom and comic interludes are provided by Maggie Ellis, the village gossip (my village still has one like her!) and Non’s dour mother-in-law, Catherine Davies.

As well as the stifling ambiance of village life we have the global issues of love and loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, autism, the struggle for Irish independence, medical advances, women’s rights, the growth of the Labour party.  Change is coming whether the villagers like it or not. 

Mari Strachan has a knack of engaging the reader almost immediately, drawing you into this other world, immersing you in another era - highly recommended particularly if you enjoy excellent storytelling in a rural setting.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what Mari comes up with next.

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8 Comments

  1. Ellie says:

    This made my top ten for last year, absolutely loved it.

  2. This sounds intriguing, I hadn’t heard of it before your review. I feel like PTSD/shell shock was really unrecognised after WW1 so it would make an interesting novel.

  3. admin says:

    I don’t know why I left it so long to read it, it’s been on my bedside table for ages. I think I wanted to give it the attention it deserved and was waiting for the right moment!

  4. admin says:

    Sam, I think you’d love it. She’s a fabulous writer, really atmospheric and her characters are spot on.

  5. Lindsay says:

    I loved this one too. Glad you liked it so much Treez.

  6. stujallen says:

    Oh this sounds good I like the barker books about the war this seems like what happen when the men returned broken ,love title as well ,all the best stu

  7. admin says:

    Lindsay, I don’t know why I left this so long to read. Her characters are so vivid.

  8. admin says:

    The title is a quote from a Robert Graves poem
    “To bring the dead to life
    Is no great magic.
    Few are wholly dead:
    Blow on a dead man’s embers
    And a live flame will start.”

    Beautiful, just like this novel!

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