Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris.

For a book to be a success it needs to speak to you or me as an individual. No one has ever been able to explain to me why one book can cause a positive reaction in one reader and yet another is left numbed with incomprehension. One theory being that a story in some way connects to a readers personal experiences so that they can relate to the characters and events. This worries me a little and makes me think I should steer clear of fans of psychological thrillers, where twisted psychopaths draw pleasure from mentally and physically torturing their victims. I am just going to assume that it is the hero or heroine of the tale they are drawn to, who is equally as driven and sometimes as flawed as those they chase, but who is determined to bring an end to suffering!

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is written by playwright Barney Norris, who without doubt has an assured understanding of characterisation and motivation.  In his tale he discusses the parallel of five rivers meeting, with the story of five individuals who all flowing together end up at the same point in time and then apart again, but always affected and forever changed by the event they witness.  As history and events brought Salisbury into being as a centre of civilization because of the meeting of the rivers of the title, so a shared history of some sort brought the five characters together for one climatic moment. It all sounds very dramatic! Does the book live up to this weighty notion?

It’s a beautifully written tale of five people who are all connected in some way, prior to the event or after it.  Very character driven rather than fast paced or dramatic. You get to know the characters thoughts, flaws, strengths and insecurities and how life has led them to this moment in time.  Its quite a contained tale that for me doesn’t match up tot he grand assertion of being a “deeply knowing portrait of millennium Britain!”

But that is not a comment made by the writer, its just one critics view of the book and a positive one, but it doesn’t for me describe the strengths of what is a beautifully crafted story and a very assured debut.  He draws you into the lives of his five characters and makes you care. You may see aspects of yourself in them, or people you know.  It is his innate understanding of emotion and  how life experiences shape who we are, that makes this book special.  He writes a narrative in which the characters and how they feel are more important than any dramatic event. You can tell he is a playwright and he brings those skills to a quietly spoken tale of human life in the spired city of Salisbury.

I would certainly read his next book and look forward to reading his work in the future.

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