Author Alan Skinner posted this review of Evie Woolmore‘s novel The Salt Factory on Goodreads. His review – like his books – is worth reading, for its diligence and honesty. And if you ever review books, his blend of the personal and the objective is a style worth evoking.
The line between fantasy and magical realism is not a thin one. Between the two lies a huge gulf filled with literary conventions, belief and, most of all, the difference between suspension of belief and the creation of belief. Evie Woolmore may well disagree but magical realism is about the fantastic seen within the ordinary rather than jostling for room beside it. Marquez, the greatest of all the so-called magical realism novelists, elevated the ordinary into the magical rather than forcing the ordinary to give way to the magical. Woolmore respects that though her brand of magical realism is less flighty than that of Marquez or Borges.
In the Salt Factory, Evie Woolmore deftly teases out the fantastic. It is, perhaps, more mystical than magical but she has a sure grasp of her spirit, never letting it slide into the mundane and facile supernatural. While we might guess where she is going, the trip there is what matters, not the arrival.
It is best that I make clear my interest in writing this review. To say I am writing this review only because I liked the book would be to state only half the truth and since the unspoken half could unfairly damage the credibility of the review, it is best to come clean.
Last year, Evie, as reviewer for Awesome Indies and her own book review blog, Allonym Books, produced a very generous review of one of my books. Now, I detest the practice of cross reviews, where authors make a pact to review each other’s books. Readers deserve more honesty and transparency than that. It never occurred to me to to even read one of Evie’s books, let alone review it. I rarely write reviews being far too self-centred to think that any books but mine deserve to be reviewed, and far too busy working on new ones to be distracted. Yet, the intelligence and literary grace of Evie’s review piqued my curiosity and I found myself buying The Salt Factory.
So, you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is not a tit-for-tat thank you, or part of a bargain made with another author. If I was to bargain away my soul, believe me, I would side with Faust and ask for a much higher price than a review. My soul is worth at least the guarantee of a best-seller, most likely several, with an unusually inspiring Muse thrown in for insurance.
This is a well-written book. Its measured prose flows easily and treads confidently between exposition and description. The book unwinds itself around you. We often talk of a book as being a page-turner as if that were some automatic measure of value but it seems to me that the page you can’t bear to leave is a better mark of a well-written book. The reader should want to remain with, to to linger over, each page, rather than rush past it to see the next one. And that is the type of book Evie has written; the well-written page-lingerer, like the novels of Henry James.
That is not to say that it plods or is dull. It has a compelling storyline that moves along briskly enough with only one or two brief and barely noticeable quiet spots. And its main protagonist, Thelonia Jones, is an intriguing and unusual creation: a English-born, gunslinging US marshall not afraid to be masculine but not compelled to be so. Children and adolescents may well like and need kick-ass heroines but feisty, independent and smart ones like Thelonia serve adults better.
Disconnection and displacement are obviously important and interesting themes to Woolmore for they loom large in the book. In fact, it is a book populated by the disconnected or those connected to the wrong people or places, almost like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is pulled apart, shuffled and re-assembled. When Woolmore gradually pushes the pieces back together, we realise that the landscape actually hasn’t changed at all but that we’re just looking at it from a different horizon.
It isn’t a deeply profound book but it does’t set out to be. It is a reflective, thoughtful, intriguing book. There’s a mystery at its heart but it isn’t a whodunnit. I’m not even 100% sure there’s a defined solution. I know I came to my own, one that satisfied me, but perhaps it isn’t the same one as Woolmore intended. It doesn’t matter; she only wrote it. I read it. And it worked for me.
Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory is available from all Amazon sites. And if you want to try before you buy, you can read an extract here.