Amaranth is on the run with her two teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow. Exhausted after driving for days without sleep, she crashes the car, leaving them stranded. Help comes in the begrudging form of a farmer, Bradley, who lets them sleep on his porch despite their weird ways. For she is running from a cult, where she was the first wife among fifty and her daughters have never known anything other than the rule of the Father.
Amity hadn’t known the bowl could be broken. She didn’t know it was possible to break such a thing, any more than it was possible to break a church or a family.
The girls very much reflect their namesakes. Amity, once she has got past the breaking of rules, is eager to make friends and wants to help everyone. Her joyful discovery of the world beyond the confines of the cult lifts the novel from what could be a disturbing tale. For Sorrow is broken beyond repair. Older than Amity, her experience within the cult were different and she is thoroughly brainwashed. When we meet her, it is during a harrowing scene of a miscarriage in the gas station toilets and whilst it doesn’t take long to piece two and two together, the extent of her devotion to the man who, quite frankly, abused her.
Amity is an endearing character and it’s her faith in her sister that makes you want things to turn out well for Sorrow. Otherwise, her pyromania and unpleasant nature would paint her as evil, but they are far more complex than that. You can tell Amity is torn between thinking for herself and protecting Sorrow, because everyone’s always done what’s best for Sorrow. There’s a thing with a kitten which is just awful (fair warning to animal lovers) and really makes you doubt any hope redemption.
All the names appear relevant; Amaranth’s significance may not be revealed until the end but Hope was certainly a sign of hope within the cult. You certainly got a sense that the women looked after each other and the sense of community was not necessarily a bad thing, even if the end result turned disastrous. Although Amaranth’s guilt is littered through the pages; as a mother, how did she let this happen to her children when all she wanted was to be saved? Even the name of Bradley’s current crop, rapeseed, is an ominous reminder of what has passed.
The novel alternates between the present day and the family’s time within the cult. At first, the timescales confused me a little, but the past plot line runs in reverse chronological order, so it is only at the end where you come to realise Amaranth’s motivation for joining him. It is interesting to see how something escalates in reverse.
I loved the dynamics on the farm. Bradley’s wife left him and he doesn’t have much faith in women but slowly forms a quiet friendship with Amaranth despite telling them he wants them gone. His father is an unlikely participant in the family’s wellbeing, bed-bound and curmudgeonly but sparking seeds of inspiration in them. Bradley’s adopted son, Dust, is charming and patient with the girls.
Amity & Sorrow is published by Tinder Press, the new literary imprint from Headline, and is available now in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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