BOOK REVIEW: All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew

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Sometimes you need to be in the right mood to enjoy a book, like ice cream, or the comedy of Jason Manford.

(That’s not true. There’s never a good time to experience the comedy stylings of Jason Manford).

This is more often the case with experimental novels. Despite their merits, it can be difficult to cope with a difficult syntax, quasi-realistic settings and sybolism heavy speech. You want to enjoy experimenting, but after a long day at work you’re generally more likely to seek the comfort of the familiar.

All this is to say that All Rivers Run Freeby Natasha Carthew can be hard work. But it’s not to say that it isn’t occasionally, often, brilliant. However, you’ll find the need to shape your mind around it.

Ia Pendilly lives in a difficult world, In Cornwall, she’s trapped on the edges of civilisation, such as it currently is. Her cousin-husband Bran is part abusive, part parent, part lost himself. Ia doesn’t want him, but doesn’t know want she wants, and doesn’t have a choice really. The edges of her world are closing in. Perhaps a child would help? However, that won’t happen, again and again and again, it won’t happen.

From here, Ia seeks to escape. Yet making an escape, for her, will be an almost bibical journey, through geography and through human relatiosnhips. The escape will take her through a thinning world but towards her own past. With this quasi-quest, there’s a strong fantasy element running through the novel, an almost Tolkien-esque jouney (although, unlike Tolkien, a well written one).

All Rivers Run Freedoesn’t always work. At points the structure and narrative falter. At times, it feels as if the experimental aspects buckle the creative drive. At times, it’s difficult to pick up. But, overall, it has moments of brilliance and a deep-lying humanity that deserves respect and attention. As Natasha Carhew’s first novel for adults it can be breathtaking and, at the right moments, joyful.

All Rivers Run Free is published by Riverrun and is available here.


Natasha Carthew


Natasha Carthew has been published previously as a poet and young adult writer and her books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award and shortlisted for several national awards including the Branford Boase. She lives in Cornwall with her girlfriend of twenty years and spends most of her time writing outdoors in all weathers. Her identity as a country writer has led her to become a survival expert, a trained walking-guide and to teach Wild Writing workshops.

Reviewed by Joseph Surtees


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