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A nuanced novel of individual choice, set in ENGLAND

7th March 2022

The Herd by Emily Edwards, a nuanced novel of individual choice, set in England.

A nuanced novel of individual choice, set in ENGLAND

The novel is set in fictional Farnley, somewhere in the South of England beyond London. Although the novel is not particularly rich in setting, it does bring to life a certain milieu of English society. where class, wealth and a sense of liberal entitlement are pervasive. As ever, beneath the public personas of the characters there are the vulnerabilities and skewed thinking that go on behind closed doors.

As the book opens in the Summer of 2019, we meet a group of friends who are enjoying the summer heat and outdoor life. Elizabeth and Jack have three children, the youngest of whom – Clemmie – had febrile fits as a toddler and thus they have decided to avoid vaccinating her. This leaves her vulnerable and when it is her turn to throw a birthday party, mum sends out a rather ill-thought out e mail requesting that anyone unvaccinated should keep their distance so as not to endanger her.

Elizabeth’s best friend Bry lives nearby with her daughter Alba and her husband Ash. The two women have been virtually inseparable for years, they are godmothers to each other’s daughters. Each is very different: Elizabeth is a micro-manager, loves to be in control but she and her husband are finding times hard financially; Bry is chaotic but surrounded by a decent level of wealth because of Ash’s astute business acumen. There are secrets all round and as the Summer months pass, the dynamics become fraught.

I very much liked how the author feeds in a whole load of characters at the beginning, yes, it was a little confusing but it created a sense of community, party atmosphere and outdoor living, people in and out of houses, incomers, socialising, barbecues and busyness. She also creates a good sense of imagery, from the heat in the back gardens, the bouncy castle, through to the symbolic bloom of ladybirds that descends on the locality for a brief period. I wasn’t altogether convinced by the deep friendship between Elizabeth and Bry but there is plenty going on to scoop up any doubts on that front.

That easy Summer living soon morphs into something much darker. At the heart of the novel is the choice that individuals make around vaccination.

The author started thinking about the subject of the novel in 2018, long before Covid (when she was pregnant and overheard her husband and her birth doula having a discussion about vaccination). It all feels quite prescient and given many of the discussions around vaccinations that have been taking place over the last couple of years, the novel feels really on point.

The author says: “I wrote the lion’s share during the first 202 lockdown. I’ve never known a time when our individual choices could directly and catastrophically impact others so profoundly. Learning about all this in theory and watching it play in practice across the world has been the education of my life”

A very readable and timely novel and would be perfect for a book club choice.

Tina for the TripFiction Tea

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