Fell is the fourth novel by Jenn Ashworth, published in July 2016 by Sceptre. I picked up a copy of the book last month when I attended an event featuring Jenn in conversation with fellow writer Jon McGregor at the Nottingham Festival of Literature (you can read my write up of the event here) At this event it was fascinating to hear Jenn talk about the process of writing Fell, and intrigued by her readings from the book I was eager to read it and find out more.
‘Yes. We are. We are. Dazed as newborns! The proprietors of this place. A respectable house. Netty. Jack. That’s what they called us.’
I was intrigued by the premise of Fell, and listening to Jenn discuss the book she spoke of wanting to tell a story featuring ‘other-worldly’ beings – in this case the spirits of parents Netty and Jack. But in this, a story of the past and awakening spirits it’s telling is far from twee. It begins with Annette Clifford, a woman who returns to her childhood home in Morecambe Bay, a home which having been abandoned for many years is rapidly disintegrating. Her arrival in the house results in the spirits of her parents being awakened, and Jack and Netty begin to watch over their daughter as they try to process past memories. The story shifts back and forth through time, and we get a glimpse of life for Jack and Netty in the summer of 1963. And within these memories there are harrowing moments, as we see Netty when she is seriously ill, and her husband’s desperation to save her, to ease her suffering. This leads to further mysterious events, including the arrival of a charismatic stranger named Timothy, who appears to have miraculous abilities, and the powers of healing…
‘How old now? We try to count the years but time slips away, the tide dragging wet sand out from under our heels until we fall and slip into the grass.’
The fact that we see the story told from the perspective of spirits gives Fell a haunting, eerie quality. This is enhanced through Ashworth’s writing style, and the depiction of an eerie, unsettling landscape. The family home itself is vividly portrayed in its state of decay along with its depiction of the ordinary things that surround us, which helped create an atmospheric tale. The shifts through time make for an interesting read and there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Jack and Netty’s past memories, and the impact they had on their daughter Annette. It is not entirely clear why Annette moved away, and why she finds it so difficult being back. There is then the mystery surrounding Timothy and who he really is which certainly keeps up the interest as I was keen to find out what was going on. What is clear is that this is a story of family, of hopes and regrets and it was fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, looking back at Jack and Netty’s lives.
‘We’re there where we shouldn’t be, or where we should always have been, watching the little girl who is sitting up in bed quietly listening even though it is past midnight.’
Fell is an intriguing, haunting novel about life and death told from an unusual perspective. With elements of mystery and the paranormal, this is a powerful story where events from the past and present become blurred.