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Sil­ver & Salt

Elanor Dy­mott (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

We first en­counter ruthie as a ‘child­ishly thin’ adult, spy­ing through binoc­u­lars on a girl be­ing bul­lied by her father and brother at a neigh­bour­ing Greek villa. We spend a tense few days with ruthie in Greece, while the other strand of the novel’s dou­ble nar­ra­tive takes us back to her child­hood, where we learn why ruthie must re­mind ‘her­self that this sense she has of the two of them be­ing very close to one another is no more than a trick of the light’.

ruthie and her sis­ter Vinny are the chil­dren of glam­orous pho­tog­ra­pher Max and so­phie, a bud­ding opera singer who gave up her ca­reer to have chil­dren. their early years were spent at Max’s coun­try house, with so­phie strug­gling to bal­ance the joy of her daugh­ters against the bit­ter­ness of thwarted cre­ativ­ity and the lone­li­ness of a soli­tary moth­er­hood—max is mostly ab­sent, work­ing, trav­el­ling and phi­lan­der­ing.

When a third preg­nancy re­sults in a boy ‘cut, still, from his mother’, so­phie can’t en­dure it. ‘it was my body, his grave,’ she tells Max, be­fore tip­ping over the edge into mad­ness, and the fam­ily shat­ters into painful frag­ments.

A whisper of sal­va­tion seems to ap­pear for ruthie when her father agrees to teach her pho­tog­ra­phy, but the lessons don’t go well. Max’s cru­elty and im­pa­tience rapidly sur­face and his daugh­ter’s small­est mis­takes prompt his shout­ing at and hit­ting her.

Much of the novel is taken up with pho­tog­ra­phy’s tech­ni­cal de­tails, es­pe­cially de­vel­op­ing neg­a­tives—an in­trigu­ing metaphor for un­der­stand­ing ruthie’s own devel­op­ment. ‘so you couldn’t turn me into a pho­to­graph?’ ruthie asks her father in the dark­room, as her myr­iad scars of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age be­gin to form.

Sil­ver & Salt is a com­pelling and com­pli­cated ex­plo­ration of hurt in its many man­i­fes­ta­tions, and our abil­ity—or in­abil­ity— to with­stand it. Emily Rhodes

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