Book Review: Gaining Ground by Joan Barfoot

Photo on 2016-06-07 at 19.08 #2

My name is Abra.

On the one hand, this book was incredibly easy to read. Then again on the other hand, it was terrifyingly difficult. Gaining Ground is the story of Abra, a woman who left her family and everything she knew in order to live utterly alone and whose daughter Katie has now tracked her down to confront her.

Abra has no explanations to offer, no way of making Katie understand what she has done. Katie’s very presence draws Abra into memories that she thought she had left, swamping her at times. It is a fascinating study of mother-daughter relationships and of extremes.

Gaining Ground was easy to read because of the sparse simplicity – Joan Barfoot’s style is lucid and curt with an underlying warmth to it. The story is simple, at least on the surface. There are few narrative complexities, no unnecessary flourishes.

And then, it was also difficult to read. I recognised so much of myself in Katie and Abra – it was like watching my own internal conflicts played out by strangers. I understood, far more than I wanted to, Abra’s struggle to feel and to relate and to function. And I have often felt the desire to simply leave bubble up from somewhere deep inside me. And yet… I felt for Katie, I understood her rage and her pain and her abandonment, her inability to comprehend. That is a voice that I also have, on the inside.

This book, I think, is important. For anyone who has ever needed to be alone, and for anyone who has been left. It is a strange tale, and at times reality seemed to melt and memory failed. But it is also simple and therein lies the strength; simple like the edge of an axe, and cutting like one.

Having finished this book, I find myself oddly peaceful yet also full of an odd yearning for something that I cannot name but that I recognised in Abra’s cabin. An interesting, disturbing read.

Note: I promise we will get back to fantasy reviews! Eventually…


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