As a member of Rosie’s Book Review team, I received a copy of this book from the author for a fair and honest review.
The story: A close-knit group of long-time friends plan a several days’ hiking trip together in the remote and mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa, along its southern border. When one of the group members, Michelle, can’t make the trip because of her duties as a high court judge, she has her daughter Clare go in her place. Clare is an anorexic, which is a poorly guarded secret, and has isolated herself from people because of her disorder. She agrees to go, so she can spend time with her father, Geoffrey, but it is clear from the outset that she feels and wants herself to be apart from the group.
Although the story is Clare’s, it is also that of Faye, the middle-aged wife of Derek, who is an emotional batterer. Faye has little belief in herself or her independence after years of marriage to him and feels fearful and helpless. When Clare develops a migraine, she stays behind at the group’s first overnight camp. The rest head off on a long hike, unaware that Derek has not told them that unseasonal rains have been predicted, which could create dangerous floods of the rivers they have to cross. After a few hours of hiking, Faye, feeling guilty about leaving Clare alone and wanting to be away from the ever-badgering husband, decides to head back alone to the first camp. The rains do come and the rivers flood, wreaking havoc with the hiking group, and Clare is seriously injured when she falls from an overlook of a river near the first camp. Faye takes control for both of them, building a shelter when she finds Clare is too badly injured to return to camp, nursing the young woman and sleeping by her side to keep her warm. Together, they discover that they share a common emotion – shame – which keeps them trapped in their situations. Despite the differences in their ages, both women, but Faye especially, uncover the reasons for their shame and also find courage through their growing relationship.
This is a terrific book, entwining and describing with flashbacks the intricacies of the interpersonal relationships of the group and the lack of personal awareness in both Faye’s and Clare’s lives. Faye’s manipulation by Derek, who is wonderfully created as an overbearing person acting out his insecurities, and Clare’s extreme control of her life through her anorexia, develop through the backstory so the reader comes to understand how they reached this point. Anorexia is by its nature difficult to understand, and the author does a brilliant job explaining Clare’s descent into the illness. The reader can feel the physical challenges facing the members of the hiking group and the stark, isolated and challenging environment in which they find themselves. And one can’t help but cheer as Faye’s newly discovered resilience and resourcefulness helps to support Clare, as she faces increasing weakness and the possible outcome.
The story is gripping, tense and well-wrought, in terms of the characters’ complex narratives, the beauty of the South African wilderness, and the constant danger surrounding the hikers. Spoiler: Not all will survive.
This book is a powerful celebration of human resiliency, and I highly recommend it.