Review by Sinead for
The first impression one gains of Breaking Ice by Kathryn Brown is that one has, unbeknowst, stumbled on a startling and wonderful work of literary fiction.
For from the outset, Brown has a sense of 'voice' which is rare even amongst the finest authors. By turns, limpid, clear and free from clutter, falling like a thin stream of soft rain upon the ear, this narrative voice unfolds the narrator's encounter with Breaking Ice from first sighting through ownership and renovation--and always, always it is written with one ear tilted toward the house and the gentle auras of the past, listening.
Written in spare, elegant prose--with a sense of subdued fragile passion and affection which is reminiscent of some of the poetry of Hilda Doolittle, each stage of the narrator's unfolding love affair with the house and its former occupants is revealed. Using beautiful repetition in the language--"No longer would it be abandoned. No longer would this room..." the author creates a sense of place that echoes with the long unheard and unheeded voices of the past, seeping from the crumbling plaster, eking into the atmosphere. It's all just so impressive.
And surprisingly, because first pages and chapters are always the very devil to get right or comfortable, only in the first two paragraphs is there any sense of constriction in the aurhorial voice, when Brown relies on cliches: "the house standing proud..." and "rabbits going about their business..." Both of which don't work within the text because upon examination, one finds neither of these mean anything. And because every other word is just so well-chosen and evocative, laying soft upon the ear and heart, these stand out like townies in Glen Coe.
Brown could afford to write much more about the gutting and renovation process of the house--perhaps because her voice is so mesmeric and her talent with descriptive passages so loving that I longed to hear about it all detail by detail, room by room and gain an even clearer sense of the house than she has given here. There is a patience here, a discovery of silence and peace, a fragility of ancient watercolours hinting at faded glories about this novel, which defy the contemporary arrogant definition of life and come as a blessed relief among the hustle and bustle of our thriller-packed world.
To wander into the confines of Breaking Ice is to come upon a place of silence and beauty, of spell-binding prose and luminous imagery all caught, like motes of dust upon a shaft of fragile mid-morning light, and regarded with an intuitive tenderness that envelop and cherish each image, impression and sound.
Though there was only a brief excerpt available, rarely have I enjoyed the opening of a novel so much as this and if the rest of the work is even half as fine as this, I look forward to finding Brown's name on some shortlist of New and Upcoming Novelists in somewhere like the Guardian, and that in the not too distant future.