Blog tour: Fall River by Meredith Miller

Fall River

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘One young woman disappears and another returns home.

‘Alice has turned to the river looking to drown the voices in her head. Khadija has come home to uncover the terrible history hidden under its surface.

‘The London train screeches through while the rest of the town is still asleep along the banks of the Tamar. They’ll wake up that morning to find that everything, and nothing, has changed.

‘Sooner or later, the river pulls them all. Sooner or later, someone falls. In this small-town drama, past and present relationships collide, weaving multiple narratives.’

Fall River

What is Fall River, by Meredith Miller, about? At the most basic level, it’s about events before and after troubled 15-year-old Alice Tregidga disappears from the small Cornish town of Saltash, just as her 25-year-old cousin Khadija Sleep happens to move back after a few years studying Law and working in London.

But it’s also about a town where everyone knows each other’s business, and the titular river that’s a touchpoint for them all, and local employment past and present, and class relations, and gender, and coming into your power, and so much more besides.

The main theme that struck me, though, was love – a specific kind you don’t see enough of in books, or, at least, not handled so expertly and evocatively.

The kind of love that binds together people whose lives are tough. The kind of love where relatives think and say damning things about and to each other, yet rarely seriously fall out, and jump to provide support when the chips are down, with no expectation of gratitude or anything in return, because who else is going to help? The kind of love where transgressions are easily forgiven, but never forgotten.

And there’s a lot to bind together the Sleep/Tregidga family – not just Alice and Khadija, but their other cousin Jo, Jo’s younger brother Dylan, and their mothers, who are sisters – as well as the town more widely. Key examples are being of the same generation, and employment – including at the old workplace that gave so many of the town’s men asbestosis.

As mentioned above, something all the characters have in common is the centrality of the River Tamar to their lives, whether that’s as something they can see from their windows, walk along to get to other locations, or as destination in and of itself. Accordingly, Miller keeps drawing our attention back to it with beautiful, lyrical descriptions and ingenious connections, creating an unshakeable sense of place.

Her descriptions of people, and the general vibe of the 2010-2016 period, are equally brilliant – by turns funny, thought-provoking, and spot-on. Each sentence is so meticulously and consciously crafted that it can get a little intense – there were times when I had to take a breather because it felt like I’d been gorging on a tremendously rich chocolate cake. This isn’t a book you can skim.

Accordingly, the various female principal characters are nuanced and distinctive, and I continued to think about them long after the ending of the book, which has the feel of the final scene of a play.

I particularly liked spending time with Nora, a quirky elderly curmudgeon who nonetheless has hidden depths and a newfound determination to right some long-running wrongs, and Tammy, an aunt-to-everyone figure whose psychic connection with the river’s many dead adds a supernatural element and can’t be fully explained away (as ever with stories, I want to believe!).

I found Khadija the most multi-layered, fascinating and “real” character, though. She’s breathtakingly outspoken, yet she feels like she has to set herself on fire to keep other people warm. She doesn’t feel completely welcome or at ease in Saltash, yet she cares about and defends it, and feels compelled to live there. Her known family has always met her needs, but she’s recently become curious about her father.

Other things that endeared me to Khadija: she loves a bit of digging and detective work. She’s been on the sharp end of that hopefully-dying attitude that if a man is really into you but you’re not feeling it, it’s your responsibility and why can’t you just give him a chance? She’s somewhere on the asexual spectrum, and (coming back to the “different types of love” thing) great representation to boot.

Fall River is rich, evocative, and memorable.

Fall River blog tour banner

Alice Violett's Picture

About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK