Monday 27 February 2023

Guest review by Cindy Jefferies: UNSETTLED GROUND by Claire Fuller


"These characters are beautifully drawn by Fuller with their frailties and difficulties with the modern world laid bare."

First published in 2001 for children, Cindy Jefferies found success with her Fame School series with Usborne Books, obtaining 22 foreign rights deals. Latterly writing fiction for adults as Cynthia Jefferies, her first title The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan was published in 2018, followed a year later by The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne, set during the English Civil Wars. Both titles are now available in paperback.

Unsettled Ground took me back to my teenage years, when I was made melancholy by reading some of the Russian classics. There is something of the plight of those serfs here. But while they suffered grinding poverty with no recourse to a better life, this is a very modern, English tale of two marginalised country dwellers.

Jeanie and Julius are fifty-one year old twins, living with their mother in a cottage that hasn’t been updated, perhaps ever. They do have a solid fuel Rayburn, but no bathroom and an earth closet outside. They scrape a living from their large garden, producing fruit and vegetables for sale, as well as eggs. Julius gets occasional work, but nothing permanent, while Jeanie has a weak heart and has never been employed outside the home. When their mother dies suddenly the twins are thrust into the horror of having no money for any sort of funeral, and their precarious existence begins to implode.

This novel made me both sad and angry at the plight of these two characters, especially Jeanie, who has few resources to cope in a society where data is king and electricity for charging gadgets essential. I have known people like this and these characters are beautifully drawn by Fuller with their frailties and difficulties with the modern world laid bare.

There was a point at which I wondered if I could bear to carry on reading but I’m glad I did. There are secrets in this family to be unravelled and they are revealed with skill. Unsettled Ground settles at last into an ending I could believe in without giving me sleepless nights. The gentle, unquestioned love between sister and brother is beautifully done throughout the novel. Highly recommended.

Unsettled Ground is published by Fig Leaf

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