Undercurrent by Barney Norris 

As avid readers, we often find ourselves immersed in various genres and stories, listening to different voices with whom we can happily spend many hours. But less often, you might find a voice that feels familiar to your own, and for me, Barney Norris is one of these writers, and I was thrilled to receive a proof copy of his fourth novel, Undercurrent, ahead of its publication this week. 

Having loved Norris’ previous writing my expectations for this latest novel, a story of endings and beginnings, were high. And within just a few pages I knew I was going to love it, having quickly found myself engrossed by their story, the things that may happen in the future, and the fleeting, yet pivotal, moments from the past, whilst coming to terms with their place in a world in which they are feeling isolated. The events of this novel begin at a wedding in April 2019, and I immediately warmed to the central character, Ed, who I found to be particularly relatable. Ed is in his thirties, that age when a lot of your friends and peers are getting married and/or starting a family. Ed himself is in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Juliet, but it is apparent that things are far from perfect, their romance gradually ebbing away, whilst he holds down a job just to pay the bills. As Ed observes the scene around him, he captures what I am sure a lot of my fellow thirty-somethings feel, this sensation of the world moving at a different pace, and those questions you ask of yourself as you come to the realisation that something might be missing, a fear of time, and life, passing you by. This exploration of time is a key feature of this story, as Ed contemplates his future, whilst reflecting on the past. And one such moment from the past proves significant in his story, as his path crosses once more with Amy, a girl who Ed saved in what could be considered an accidental moment of heroism many years earlier. I loved this idea of two people’s lives becoming intertwined, and those delicate threads remaining in place years later, a connection formed and unbroken by time. 

As I anticipated, I really enjoyed this book, which I found to be beautifully written, thought provoking and often poignant, which I have found with Norris’ writing previously, as he writes so wonderfully about love. The way in which love, in all its complexity, is depicted throughout Undercurrent is beautiful. Not only does it capture the urgency with which you may crave the presence of a partner, the magnetic pull between lovers in spite of everything, but it also explores the quiet trauma of hearts that are broken. The feeling of a long-term relationship that has reached an end, a bond pulled apart at the seams which neither party is able to fix. This made Ed and Amy’s reunion, as well as Ed and Juliet’s struggling relationship a moving read, and I was fully immersed in these characters lives. And not only does it explore Ed and Amy’s connections through time, it also delves into the origin of Ed’s family as the narrative switches back and forth through time, learning more about his family, which adds extra depth to their story, whilst capturing their family history and the bonds that forged Ed’s own life. 

Undercurrent is an exquisite portrayal of love and loss in many forms and whilst it does have melancholic moments, as the characters grieve not only for their relationships, but for lost loved ones, and the passing of time, it also contains moments of hope. It was a story that felt very familiar to me, as a woman in her mid-thirties who has seen many weddings, and donned many bridesmaid gowns, as well as someone who has also recently lost a loved one. These shared experiences I had with Ed gave this book additional meaning to me, and at times it felt like I was bearing witness to my own heart being unfurled onto the page, such was the power of this writing. It was a story that made me reflect on my own life, occasionally with regret, but also with a feeling of excitement, and hope, with a reminder to seize those moments (as cliché as that may sound!) and strive to form those life changing connections, which can save your life, and shape it for years to come. 

Undercurrent is to be published by Doubleday Books on 25th August 22. With thanks to Aoifé McColgan and Doubleday Books for providing a copy for review.

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