Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is the stunning debut novel by Barney Norris. Although just 28, he is already well renowned as a playright and won the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright for his 2014 play Visitors. There’s a really interesting interview with him on The Bookseller website. Click here to read it. Five Rivers is set in and around Salisbury with the great spire of the cathedral being a focal point seen from all around. After a very poetic prologue about Salisbury, five different characters take turns to tell their part of the story. All five are linked by a road accident but as they tell their stories, we see there are other connections too.

After the gentle introduction it is quite a contrast to meet Rita, a foul mouthed flower stall owner who has clearly had quite a hard life. The next narrator is Sam, a teenager experiencing his first love while at the same time struggling to cope with his father’s illness. Then we meet very recently bereaved farmer George and learn about his life with his beloved wife. Diary entries are how we learn about the military wife Alison, so lonely without her husband and worried to distraction. With their teenage son away at boarding school, she turns to her diary to share her thoughts. The last character is Liam, a security guard who watches over Old Sarum, the original town, with his fierce guard dog keeping him company.

Through these five different characters we learn a little about the lives of people in Salisbury. Until the accident, nothing particularly remarkable about any of them. Just the usual everyday worries, fears, joys and troubles that many of us face. And yet, Barney Norris has made each individual story so compelling. I thought I’d probably find myself drawn more to one that another but actually, I was just as fascinated by each character’s tale. Just as in real life, there were connections between the characters that they weren’t necessarily aware of. The soldier’s wife Alison worked with Sam’s mother, George the farmer used to get his shoes re-soled at Sam’s father’s shop, Rita had briefly lived with the farmer and his wife. Liam, who is not what you might expect a typical security guard to be, is aware that all five of them were present and affected by the accident. He compares them to the five rivers joining together in Salisbury Plain and becoming the Avon. “While five rivers flow into this city and this story, only one sings on out of it.” In the same way the rivers all meet and thus are changed, so too do we, often unknowingly, touch and change many other lives.

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is, quite simply, a beautifully written story. Although many of the stories have sadness and loneliness at their heart, it’s not a sad book but very moving. Barney Norris has captured the emotions of his characters perfectly as they move on in their own ways from their troubles and he expresses so well the common experiences of everyday life. A very impressive debut and one not to miss.

There must be something about this week as so many of the books I’ve read recently are being published on Thursday. Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is due to be published in hardback and as an ebook on 21st April by Doubleday. You can order a copy here: Five Rivers My thanks to the publishers for allowing me to read a copy via Netgalley.

From the back of the book

‘There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral. That is the meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.’

One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower – all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.

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