“What follows is as much a menacing thriller as an apocalyptic fable.”
This is a debut novel and it’s an intense psychological, even apocalyptic thriller. But Chanter is also a poet, and the way she writes is graceful, evocative and emotional.
The Well reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – praise indeed, as far as I’m concerned. It conjures up a dystopian world seen from one woman’s point of view; a world which has become hostile to that woman because of what it perceives to be witchcraft.
The Well is set in a slightly future Britain that has suffered from a crippling drought for two years. The only place which received a regular nightly burst of refreshing rainfall is The Well, an isolated farmhouse on the Welsh borders. Alone in the UK, it remains green and fertile.
Ruth and Mark are the couple who live at The Well, having sold their London home to escape accusations – subsequently disproved – that Mark is a paedophile. They settle into their new country home, which is truly a paradise; an oasis of fecund beauty, and are joined by Ruth’s wayward daughter, Angie, an ex-junkie, and Ruth’s beloved grandson Lucien.
As riots threaten in an increasingly frightened, drought-stricken country, and The Well continues to inexplicably receive its nightly bounty of rain, locals are jealous and furious – and the government increasingly suspicious of what is going on at the farm.
Meanwhile Ruth and Mark’s marriage begins to implode and a mysterious female-focused religious cult makes camp at The Well. The women call themselves the Sisters of the Rose of Jericho – a real plant which looks dead, but blossoms into life in contact with water.
So much for the symbolism – what follows is as much a menacing thriller as an apocalyptic fable.
“A page-turner. A cracking read. Enjoy.”
The Well begins as Ruth is released from prison and out under house arrest at The Well. She is alone at home, apart from three military guards to keep an eye on her. Her husband Mark has left and we gradually learn that her beloved seven-year-old grandson has been killed.
Ruth has been suspected of his murder, hence the jail time, but the authorities cannot prove it. So they send her back to The Well, mainly because the government is desperate to discover the secret of the farm’s fertility as the rest of the country shrivels under cloudless skies.
As the story unravels, we learn how the sinister Sisters of the Rose of Jericho have deliberately brainwashed Ruth into their weird cult. She falls hopelessly under the spell of their leader, the charismatic Sister Amelia, who tries to convince Ruth that Christianity is a purely female-based religion. In biblical terms Sister Amelia is the serpent in Paradise, tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Ruth at first allows herself to be convinced that she is literally a saint, which is why the rain still falls on The Well. But after release from jail, she begins to piece together what happened to Lucien. The more she finds out about the cult, the more certain she is that the Sisters are to blame.
This book is difficult to categorise. Part-science fiction; part apocalyptic fable; it is principally a gripping thriller: the story of a woman who becomes half mad with grief and fear.
A page-turner. A cracking read. Enjoy.
Here are a selection of the reviews for The Well
“A markedly assured new voice – its story and narrative voice will put many readers under a deliciously shivery spell”
“A strong literary page turner”
“This story ripples with mystery and intrigue from the first page….”