Something is weighing on her breast, squeezing her heart. For a moment Non cannot move, not sure if she is awake or still in a dream. She breathes evenly to keep panic at bay, and her heart-beat steadies. The dream vanishes but the weight remains. She recognises it: it is a sense of dread that is becoming familiar, though quite what it is that she dreads she does not know.
Non is a housewife in Wales, 1921, where thousands of lives have been forever scarred by the war. Her husband, Davey, returns a different man and she is determined to discover what happened to him in the war to change him so. She is raising a child that is not hers and does not speak and begins to wonder if Osian is a product of her husband's secret life.
I was immediately drawn into the world of the Davies and didn't feel I had to make the effort to get to know the characters, they were there in full colour from the start. My heart was already breaking for Osian on page 19, yet it never becomes a depressing read. It shows her skill that Mari can make a story about post traumatic stress give you the warm and fuzzies. Her writing is warm and tender, full of charm and undoubtedly Welsh. Despite the difference in subject matter and narrative, you can hear the same voice behind this as The Earth Hums in B Flat.
The story is full of details of life after World War I, a period of much change, where women, once in charge of things and learning how to do a man's job, must return to household duties, if they were lucky enough that their husbands came home. Many conversations are made against the backdrop of painstaking housework yet there is the hope of modern appliances hinted at here and there. Mentions of the political situations in Wales and Ireland are no more than you would expect a family to discuss over the kitchen table and gives just the right amount of credence to this slice of life in the not so glamourous twenties.
We can now give a name to the conditions suffered by Davey, his father and Osian, but in the twenties families had to cope knowing only that there was something not right with their loved ones. I think Non's visit to the Doctor signalled the start of a different understanding in the medical world despite the nurse's blindness to the mental state of her patients.
I must admit I wasn't sure about the title at first but now I see it works perfectly for a metaphor of Non bringing her husband back to her. The title is taken from a poem by Robert Graves, To Bring the Dead to Life.
A book to read in one sitting! Blow on a Dead Man's Embers is published by Canongate and will be available to buy in trade paperback and ebook formats on 4th August. Many thanks to Canongate for providing me with a copy to review.