At long last I’m able to get to something I’ve wanted to (get to) for a few days now. Things tend to amble into my (our) path(s) though, some enjoyable — the antics of the children, my time away, the Night Train launch — and some not so enjoyable — a grotty cold!

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Rachel Sarai’s VineyardSo. What I’m wanting to mention is Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard, by Deborah Rey. I finished it just before I went away, and thankfully any fear I had of it fading was unfounded: this is a book that stays with you.

The book moves between the grown-up Rachel’s world where her mother is dying and where she is left to deal with the funeral — and the child Rachel’s world where she is a runner for the Resistance, and where a triangulated emotional and psychological battle takes place between her mother, her father, and the beautiful violinist, Marie.

This is also a book that doesn’t pull any punches. The narrative style in the ‘present day’ voice of grown up Rachel swings between rancourous and sarcastic — and is at times insoluably vulnerable. The ‘child Rachel’ voice is closer to reportage: visual, slowly paced, and dealing more plainly with symbolism, letting emotional weight gather. Young Rachel’s wisdom, her determination to ‘be strong’ mixed with a real need and desire to love and be loved is… heartbreaking. Throughout the book, we are reminded of who she was, what was taken from her — and who she is now, what she has inevitably become, her own battles fought.

There are several striking, visceral scenes in the book, which Rey tackles with considerable courage. I found myself wanting to turn away, not to witness this — yet I had to, because Rachel had, and because, in some strange way as a grown-up now myself, I had to. I owed it to her to be with her, as no one had been with her then.

I cried twice while reading this book, and as I say practically held the book at arm’s length on two further occasions. I was flung all over the place.

More than anything, Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard strikes me as a book that absolutely had to be written. The experiences in it simply could not go unrecorded. I can only guess that it must have been simultaneously hellish and uplifting to write, the kind of piece you write with your hand over your mouth. You mustn’t say anything, but then again — then again — you must. And Deborah Rey has.

Now that this particular ice cap has been smashed through, it seems to me that there is at least another book in these experiences. It’s safe water now — not exactly clear sailing — but my instinct tells me the worst is over. I was particularly taken by the lyrical, observational, generous voice of young Rachel, and suspect she has more to say.

Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard is published by — yes — bluechrome, that Portishead bastion of the nearly unconventional. And I think that bluechrome being what it is has allowed this book full voice, much to the credit of author and publisher. A limited Special Edition is available now, and the full print run follows in April 2008.

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