The Well: Book summary and reviews of The Well by Catherine Chanter

The Well

by Catherine Chanter

The Well by Catherine Chanter X
The Well by Catherine Chanter
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Book Summary

From the winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, a brilliantly haunting and suspenseful debut set in modern-day Britain where water is running out everywhere except at The Well - the farm of one seemingly ordinary family whose mysterious good fortune leads to suspicion, chaos, and ultimately a shocking act of violence.

Ruth Ardingly has just been released from prison to serve out a sentence of house arrest for arson and suspected murder at her farm, The Well. Beyond its borders, some people whisper she is a witch; others a messiah. For as soon as Ruth returns to The Well, rain begins to fall on the farm. And it has not rained anywhere else in the country in over three years.

Ruth and her husband Mark had moved years before from London to this ancient idyll in the hopes of starting their lives over. But then the drought began, and as the surrounding land dried up and died, and The Well grew lush and full of life, they came to see their fortune would come at a price. From the envy of their neighbors to the mandates of the government, from the fanaticism of a religious order called the Sisters of the Rose to the everyday difficulties of staying close as husband and wife, mother and child - all these forces led to a horrifying crime: the death of their seven-year-old grandson, drowned with cruel irony in one of the few ponds left in the countryside.

Now back at The Well, Ruth must piece together the tragedy that shattered her marriage, her family, and her dream. For she believes her grandson's death was no accident, and that the murderer is among the people she trusted most. Alone except for her guards on a tiny green jewel in a world rapidly turning to dust, Ruth begins to confront her worst fears and learns what really happened in the dark heart of The Well.

A tour de force about ordinary people caught in the tide of an extraordinary situation, Catherine Chanter's The Well is a haunting, beautifully written, and utterly believable novel that probes the fragility of our personal relationships and the mystical connection between people and the places they call home.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. A sure bet for fans of Margaret Atwood's edgy dystopian fiction, Chanter's cautionary tale of environmental mayhem and religious fervor is a provocative, tantalizing triumph." - Booklist

"Starred Review. Combining gripping mystery, nuanced psychological drama, and striking prose, this debut is a mesmerizing read." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. This powerful novel is more emotional than political, but as a story foreshadowing a very possible future, it will strike a chord with readers of fiction and nonfiction alike." - Library Journal

"Chanter's poetry background is evident, as the beauty of her prose often outshines the strength of the plot, but the story is compelling if not wholly gripping." - Kirkus

"Battered, weathered, at the end of the novel [love] comes cresting over the hill, a herald of relief. Bravo...I loved this book!" - Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist

"The Well was so astoundingly assured that I wondered if AS Byatt had adopted a pseudonym... [Catherine Chanter is] a brilliant writer." - Allison Pearson, bestselling author of I Don't Know How She Does It, presenting the Lucy Cavendish Award

"The Well is... a powerful novel for our anxious times, and an exciting debut." - Edan Lepucki, New York Times bestselling author of California

"Catherine Chanter has done something remarkable here, she's written a profound meditation on belief and humanity and manages to tell a terrific story in the process." - Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation

This information about The Well was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Darlyne F. (Hunter, ND)

The Well
This book has a little of every thing a reader likes. I enjoyed how her words made you feel like you were right there with Ruth.

Mary O. (Boston, MA)

Hard to put down!
I love debut novels and think that most of the time they are the author's best effort. This is a wonderful beautifully written first novel with unique twists and turns. The style of writing and character development is first rate. One of the BEST novels I have read in a long time!!! A real joy!

Marcie M. (Chantilly, VA)

The Well
I normally don't choose books that are psychological thrillers, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this. I spent three nights engrossed in this book. What a fabulous debut novel for the author. I think after reading this I will choose other books of this genre. It was written very poetic I loved some of her choices of words. I can't wait to see what she has next for us. I'm so glad I was chosen to get this book.

Barbara B. (Holbrook, NY)

The Well
This book is so beautifully written. A mystery, yes, but so much more. It has so many levels to it and just made me keep on wanting for more. I believe this would be a great book for a book club because there are so many layers to discuss and would elicit many opinions.

Sherri A. (Westbrook, CT)

mesmerizing debut
Rarely does a novel come along that is so unique yet so believable...I have found that in The Well. It is haunting, frightening, and once you begin, unstoppable. I devoured this novel over the course of a snowy weekend. Couldn't get out to get bread or milk? So what...I had The Well.

Cloggie Downunder

This thought-provoking novel is a brilliant debut.
“Elsewhere, people were squeezing the last six months into small spaces: bicycles onto the backs of campervans, mattresses onto the roofs of cars, sleeping bags into recycled supermarket carriers, saucepans stacked one into another like Russian dolls, inflatable water carriers deflated. Set to music it would have been a grand chorus scene in an opera, with all the crowd and the minor parts working in unison and it seemed as though any minute they would all turn to face front and burst into song for their curtain call.”

The Well is the first novel by British short story writer and poet, Catherine Chanter. Ruth Ardingly is returned, under house arrest, to The Well, the lush rural property she and her husband, Mark have owned for over a year. The property is securely fenced, Ruth wears an ankle bracelet monitor and is guarded by three soldiers enforcing the Drought Emergency Regulations Act. How has their escape from the City (and the cloud of suspicion that hung over Mark) in the guise of a tree change, gone so horribly wrong?

As Ruth endures the boredom of her sentence, she thinks back on how it all started: the purchase, the rain that favours their idyll, the satisfaction of working towards self-sufficiency and the delight in presence of their grandson, Lucien. Ruth shares some of the memories with a young guard and with the priest who visits her. She tells of the jealousy and suspicion of neighbours, and the arrival of the Sisters of the Rose of Jericho with their charismatic leader, Sister Amelia.

Against the background of a severely water-restricted England, Chanter examines how relationships can break down under the effect of suspicion and increasingly differing priorities, the influence of religious cults and the tragic consequences that can ensue. She gives the reader a glimpse of online religion and the mass hysteria it can generate. This is a gripping drama that will have the reader wondering about the true fate of the young victim, and Ruth’s part in it, until the final pages.

Chanter’s characters are both credible and complex. Her descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: “.. the thought of her is dries my mouth with hope and fear and thoughts, wild and screeching as crows at dusk, scattering into the darkness” and “Some, I guess, came simply to dip their toe in the rippling pond of drama in the otherwise flat surface of their lives” are just two examples. This thought-provoking novel is a brilliant debut.

...56 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Catherine Chanter

Catherine Chanter is a teacher, poet, and short story writer. She is the winner of the Yeovil Poetry Prize and the Lucy Cavendish Prize awarded by Cambridge University. She grew up in the West Country before attending Oxford. The Well is her first novel.

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