Paperbacks: According to Ruth, by Jane Feaver

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The Independent Culture

For any child of the Seventies, Jane Feaver's intimate portrait of bohemian family life will be hard to put down. Reminiscent of the early works of Susan Minot, this evocative debut digs up the "archaeology" of a marriage on the rocks, and the battlefields of a more innocent age. Ruth, the novel's narrator, is 15. She is the eldest of three siblings. Her father, John, is an art critic; her mother, Lizzie, aspires to be a poet. It's the summer of 1979, and the family has decamped from south London to a remote cottage somewhere in rural Northumbria. Tensions between Ruth's parents rumble like distant thunder, and the children take to roaming the hills, falling into rivers and squabbling over mangled cassette tapes to get their attention.

Just as life in the claustrophobic cottage threatens to grow wearisome, the novel expands to include the dynamics of a yet more broken family. The farm further up the valley is home to Robert Burden, a sulky teenager whose Heathcliff-like presence soon captures Ruth's imagination. As the full details of Robert's past start to emerge, the domestic trials of the navel-gazing Londoners pale in comparison. Coming of age novels are two a penny, but Feaver's poetic prose and controlled storytelling set this brooding portrait of family breakdown apart.

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