Review: The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel

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For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.

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The Woman Behind the Waterfall manages to present incredibly real characters. The main characters are a mother and daughter, but there is also a grandmother, lover, friend and family friend.

All are easily accessible to the reader, whether your life echos them or not. The book is split into three parts (literally) and I have to say that Part I was my favourite. This does not mean in any sense that I did not enjoy the rest of the book.

Part I mainly focuses on the young girl and her connection with nature and the spirit world. It’s written in a unique style, with lots of short sentences and repetition, like we’re following the thoughts of a child.

It contains some truly beautiful scenes. My favourite deals with the death of a bird. It begins sadly and with apprehension, but Meriel manages to create a beautiful death scene with nothing negative about it whatsoever.

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The mother in the book suffers severely with depression and this contrasts strongly with the upbeat and carefree little girl. At times it can be hard to sympathise with the mother. I wanted her to see what she had and embrace it.

Of course, this was intentional and forms part of the plot. To me, the book’s main theme is depression and struggling to feel like a part of a family when one’s sense of self (positive or negative) is so strong.

I can imagine that for many people this book could be raw and painful, possibly causing distress and anger to particular readers. To me, it was beautiful and thought-provoking, occasionally sparking an angry question towards the author in my mind, but quickly resolving itself.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a parent, plans to be one, or who has one. So yes, that’s pretty much everyone. The style is particularly hard to categorise for a potential reader though…

The cover of the book, although beautiful, is not one that I would pick up. It looks mainstream and that doesn’t interest me. Readers of Examining the Odd: do not fear! This book is not mainstream and normal! It’s a feat of literary writing!

However, the subject matter itself is extremely normal. The Woman Behind the Waterfall hovers on dodgy ground: I can see fans of “normal” fiction finding the writing far too strange and complicated (particularly the first third of the book), while fans of unusual and daring writing may find themselves disappointed as they delve into part II and find an almost mainstream family drama. My message to both camps: don’t worry. Stick with it. You will be satisfied.

I don’t always give ratings but I give The Woman Behind the Waterfall 4 out of 5. Why not 5? I believe that Leonora Meriel has the ability to write some truly groundbreaking stuff and I want to see it.

Exciting news! Leonora Meriel has agreed to write a guest post about magic realism for Examining the Odd – keep your eyes peeled!

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