Fell is the new release by acclaimed literary novelist Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre 2016). On one hand it’s a dark tale of love and loss narrated in first person plural and omniscient third person by the ghosts of those long dead. On the other it’s an intense exploration of power and the struggle to attain and maintain it in interpersonal relationships. But, perhaps more than either of these, it’s an elegy for a life unnoticed.
The story centres on the lives of Netty and Jack, who become undone both physically and mentally, and their relationship with a young man who provides a particularly aggressive form of hope. Desire and desperation meet and lay bare the raw howl of humanity.
The story dances in time and perspective but every leaf-like dart and flutter is clearly signalled; we always know where we are and who we are. Throughout the story runs the thread of decay in a beautifully handled metaphor of house and home and the dark and brooding destructive power of nature. This darkness can be overwhelmed but never removed – unlike the Sycamores which dominate the skyline – and it exists in every mixed motive and flare of ego, every doubt. Every character in this novel is uneasy and the unease grows in pace with the disease until we reach a fraught crescendo.
There is life after death, both literally and figuratively, but there is a sense of great cost.
Jenn Ashworth does a superb job of evoking the spirit of the age in this novel. The descriptive passages ground you in a very real world, against which backdrop the preternatural sings. The relationship between Netty and Jack is entirely believable and the strengths and weaknesses of each character lead to a carefully nurtured sense of emotional investment. The story may not be entirely born of its landscape but it breathes it, lapping at the edges of our perception like the tides. Grange-over-Sands and Morecambe Bay show an expanse of horizon which provides a counterpoint to the increasingly insular nature of the Clifford home.
There are wonderful moments of dialect- plooks, moider and mollycot – when one of the characters is ‘gattered’. A moment of unguarded voice which raises the question of whether any public face is a true face. Is every voice a decision, an attempt to be accepted?
And the life unnoticed?
For some it will be the child, forever on the edges of the adult drama, putting aside her own voice out of duty and love. For others it will be the young man, at once observed and unobserved, damaged and damaging, desirous of anonymity and fame. Both, cursed with the same burden.
Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award. On the publication of her second, Cold Light (Sceptre, 2011) she was featured on the BBC’s The Culture Show as one of the UK’s twelve best new writers. Her third novel The Friday Gospels (2013) is published by Sceptre. She lives in Lancashire and teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
Jenn can be found at
@jennashworth on Twitter