A strange but com­pelling de­but novel that will linger

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS - ANN DUNNE

Sue Rains­ford lives in Dublin. She has an MFA from Ben­ning­ton Col­lege, Ver­mont, and re­ceived the Arts Coun­cil Lit­er­a­ture Bur­sary Award as well as the VAI/ DCC Crit­i­cal Writ­ing Award. So she comes with good cre­den­tials.

How­ever, her first novel, Fol­low Me to Ground, is hard to cat­e­gorise. At first it seems to re­sem­ble Claire Fuller’s Our End­less Num­bered Days, with a fa­ther and daugh­ter and a rather weird re­la­tion­ship, liv­ing in a clearing in the woods. But then the su­per­nat­u­ral is used to con­vey this strange tale, so is it an al­le­gory? What­ever it is, it is dark and dis­turb­ing with many strands, per­haps it is best to call it an adult fairy tale.

Ada lives in the woods with her fa­ther, who cre­ated her out of the ground but maybe didn’t get her quite right. They are oth­er­worldly. He be­comes an an­i­mal at night. They don’t eat and they age slowly.

Hu­mans, whom they call Cures, come to them to be treated for ill­ness and there is an un­easy trust be­tween them. The treat­ment in­volves re­mov­ing the sick part of the body and treat­ing it with herbal po­tions, mean­while com­pletely bury­ing the rest of the body in a care­fully tended patch of soil called The Ground. When they dig it up af­ter a day or so, they put the part back into the body and the hu­man is cured. But the sick­ness just doesn’t go away, it has to go some­where.

Fa­ther says of the Cures: “We give them any cause to get fright­ened and they’ll for­get how much they need us. Overnight, they’ll want us gone”. So when Ada be­comes in­volved with a Cure called Sam­son, her fa­ther is con­cerned and so is Sam­son’s preg­nant, wid­owed sis­ter, Olivia.

As a con­se­quence, Ada makes a hor­ri­fy­ing de­ci­sion which will change life for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the very Ground it­self and call into ques­tion our pre­con­cep­tions of preda­tor and prey.

Rains­ford writes beau­ti­fully with a lyri­cal, earthy prose which is evoca­tive and evis­cer­at­ing yet mes­meris­ing. She gives Ada a unique voice which fills and haunts the nar­ra­tive. One of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time, it is ut­terly com­pelling and will linger, un­in­vited, in your con­scious­ness long af­ter you’ve turned the last page.

FIC­TION Fol­low Me to Ground Sue Rains­ford New Is­land, hard­back, 140 pages, €11.95

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