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Postcard Eight - Salisbury

Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain is the debut novel of Barney Norris. I wanted a book that was a bit shorter this time and this one came up on a search for books set in Salisbury.

It's a different kind of book. There's no central plot for one thing. Instead, five characters tell their own stories, which occasionally intersect. So far, I've listened to the first two: Rita is a 60-something flower seller who dabbles in drug-dealing on the side. Sam is a shy teenager in love for the first time. The main connection between all these characters is the city they live in and the cathedral at its centre. The cathedral represents something different to each of them and this emotion it inspires in them is what is central to their narrative.

My impression of the book so far is that it's quite 'literary' in style. It has been criticised for this, particularly with regards to Sam's voice - 'for someone so inarticulate his monologues were too poetic' (Goodreads review). However, I think this misses the point somewhat. Sam is inarticulate because he lacks confidence not intelligence. In his mind, which is where his narration happens, he can describe exactly how he feels.

Rita has made quite a mess of her life, but Norris' skill is demonstrated in the fact that despite the knowledge that it is pretty much her own fault that she has no one who cares about her, I did still feel some sympathy for her. Her openness about her mistakes creates a warmth of personality that draws you in. After the books I've listened to so far, it came as a bit of a shock to have the F word used with such frequency (Lorna Doone would never have approved!) and the C-bomb that followed shortly afterwards was an even bigger one. However, it suited her character perfectly and made for a much more authentic portrayal of her.

This is not a page turner. It's not a thrill a minute. But it is beautifully poetic and is almost a love song to Salisbury.

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