Thursday 25 April 2019

Follow Me to the Ground - A strange but compelling debut novel that will linger

Top class credentials: Sue Rainsford
Top class credentials: Sue Rainsford
Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

Ann Dunne

Sue Rainsford lives in Dublin. She has an MFA from Bennington College, Vermont, and received the Arts Council Literature Bursary Award as well as the VAI/DCC Critical Writing Award. So she comes with good credentials.

However, her first novel, Follow Me to Ground, is hard to categorise. At first it seems to resemble Claire Fuller's Our Endless Numbered Days, with a father and daughter and a rather weird relationship, living in a clearing in the woods. But then the supernatural is used to convey this strange tale, so is it an allegory? Whatever it is, it is dark and disturbing with many strands, perhaps it is best to call it an adult fairy tale.

Ada lives in the woods with her father, who created her out of the ground but maybe didn't get her quite right. They are otherworldly. He becomes an animal at night. They don't eat and they age slowly.

Humans, whom they call Cures, come to them to be treated for illness and there is an uneasy trust between them. The treatment involves removing the sick part of the body and treating it with herbal potions, meanwhile completely burying the rest of the body in a carefully tended patch of soil called The Ground. When they dig it up after a day or so, they put the part back into the body and the human is cured. But the sickness just doesn't go away, it has to go somewhere.

Father says of the Cures: "We give them any cause to get frightened and they'll forget how much they need us. Overnight, they'll want us gone". So when Ada becomes involved with a Cure called Samson, her father is concerned and so is Samson's pregnant, widowed sister, Olivia.

As a consequence, Ada makes a horrifying decision which will change life for everyone, including the very Ground itself and call into question our preconceptions of predator and prey.

Rainsford writes beautifully with a lyrical, earthy prose which is evocative and eviscerating yet mesmerising. She gives Ada a unique voice which fills and haunts the narrative. One of the strangest books I've read in a long time, it is utterly compelling and will linger, uninvited, in your consciousness long after you've turned the last page.

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