The Well by Catherine Chanter
Text, 2015. ISBN 9781922182685
(Age: Adult) Set in an England that has been stricken by drought this first novel by Catherine Chanter looks at the effects of deprivation and cultism on a family seeking a change of life. The novel begins with the main character Ruth on house arrest at her property called The Well. Through interactions with her guards and working through her memories Ruth tries to find the murderer of her small grandchild. Many years earlier Ruth, pregnant, marries Mark who despite wanting to be a farmer becomes a lawyer to support the family. The child, Angie, grows into a troubled adult and, after a wrongful accusation, they all need to leave the city. They find a property, The Well, that seems to have everything they want. It is beautiful, allows Mark to farm and above all, has a plentiful water supply, so plentiful in fact that those suffering from the drought begin to suspect witchcraft. The bounty of The Well attracts scientists, officialdom and religious fanatics including a group of nuns called the Sisters led by the charismatic Amelia. Amelia draws Ruth into her power and promotes The Well online as a place for female power. As her relationship with Mark deteriorates Ruth becomes more dependent on Amelia and the rituals of the cult. Ruth's daughter, Angie, leaves to find work but her small boy Lucien stays with Ruth. Amelia becomes jealous and tries to persuade Ruth that The Well is for females only. Lucien is found drowned and Ruth is heart-broken. Suspicion falls on Mark, Ruth and Amelia but all are cleared. As one of the leaders of the cult Ruth is sent back to live in isolation while both Mark and Amelia have disappeared. Ruth struggles with the fear that she herself may have drowned Lucien but ultimately the mystery is solved. Farm life is vividly realized and the beauty of the natural world is poetically captured. The characters are believable, particularly the small boy and his mother, and Ruth's struggle towards the truth is both intense and painful. The consequences of drought ring true and the coming of the rain, along with knowledge, is cathartic. The action does not always move quickly but does engage the reader and has some power. The novel is suitable for confident adult readers.