Tuesday 21 June 2016

Recommendation: Bodies Of Water by V.H. Leslie

Bodies Of Water from Salt is V.H. Leslie's debut novel (following on her from superb collection Skein & Bone last year). It tells two stories, both of which are set in the same building: in the 1870s Evelyn  is sent to Wakewater House to undergo the new-fangled water treatment for her 'nerves'; in the present day divorcee Kirsten moves into Wakewater House, newly renovated into modern flats. Kristen is irresistibly drawn to the river flowing outside her window and her new flat is plagued by mysterious leaks. But the water is not the only thing leaking in, as the past seeps into the present...

Leslie's short stories showed her skill at taking a central theme or image and using it as the basis for her fictions, and the aquatic motifs in Bodies Of Water show her expanding this technique to short novel length. The story weaves together the river, Victorian water-cures, Virginia Woolf's suicide, burst pipes, water spirits and a whole lot more. It works brilliantly; this is a book that feels intricately and elegantly constructed. It's built on strong Gothic foundations but has a thoroughly modern sensibility - intriguingly, this applies equally to the Victorian sections of the book as the present day. Attitudes to prostitution, lesbianism, suicide and poverty are all skilfully dovetailed into the narrative. Emotionally, too, there's a great deal going on here despite the novel's relatively short length: moments of genuine creepiness sit alongside a scenes of tenderness and compassion... although in Leslie's world these are all too easily washed away.

Bodies Of Water is a genuine truimph, a book sure of itself and full of quiet ambition. It confirms Leslie is simply one of the best writers on the scene at the moment. Utterly fantastic.

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