Lead Review (novel set in Northumberland, a family in flux)

  • Book: Cousins
  • Location: Northumberland
  • Author: Salley Vickers

Review Author: tripfiction



fullsizeoutput_25e0This is the story of one family’s construct, explored from several different – female – viewpoints and across generations. Betsy, Bell and Hetta. It is a diary-style narrative, a stream of consciousness, of musing and narration, how generations are influenced by the actions of those who have gone before. The ghosts prevail even at an unconscious level and exert their shadowy presence over family members as they struggle through adversity and distress. The author recently said that her personal family experience – which in parts is quite traumatic – gave her a particular feeling for tragedy which she clearly brings to her work.

Will Tye, a current descendant, suffers a climbing accident and as the book unfolds we have glimpses into family dynamics and how they have shifted and shaped the unfolding dramas. Communist sympathies come to the fore in the aftermath of World War 2 in one generation, which inform the structure and core of family values. Rebellion against the strictures and deeply held beliefs manifest in various guises, not necessarily in overt conflict but in often more self-destructive ways. Will has been academically successful but sabotages his gilded path largely through drink and drugs. Aunt Bell (though no-one calls her ‘Aunt’, god forbid, she is very much still a free child) will take herself off at a whim to be with her latest beau, abandoning her daughter Cele, Will’s cousin, at the drop of a hat.

The imposing family home of Dowlands in the wilds of Northumbria (inspired by a B and B near Bamburgh, says the author) is run on a shoestring and is a refuge for the disparate individuals, people who find temporary solace amongst the dusty vestiges of academia and political rigour.


TF’s Tina with Salley Vickers

he structure of the book is populated by rounded characters, whose lives dovetail throughout the narrative. Family secrets can lurk through generations but have a habit of coming out in ways that can never be anticipated, and thus find expression in future generations. Will, at the heart of the novel, is very seriously injured and set against the background of history, each of the family members has to come to terms with the shocking situation in their own way. Family guilt, stories, pleasures, betrayals and above all secrets (and there is a significant secret at the heart of the story) rumble through the generations. It is each generation’s duty, perhaps, to come to understand the effect of their actions and ways of being on future generations, but that of course is never easy.

The way the story evolves very much mirrors the dynamics of a family in flux, it can slide and curl around and sometimes it is hard to stick with a focussed storyline. This is a rich novel of a family finding its own way through very stressful times.

Much of the story is set in Northumberland (London and Somerset too). Setting is important to Salley. At a recent talk she stated that landscape and location feature very strongly in my books.

This is a novel that lays bare one family’s issues, a kind of mirror to family dynamics around the world.

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