All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew

The first time it happened it was the worst of all times; the young woman told herself it was important not to forget this.

– Opening sentence

Thank you to @riverrunbooks for sending me this beautiful proof!

All Rivers Run Free follows a young woman called Ia, who has lived a heartbreaking life. At just 25, Ia has known only pain, sorrow and loneliness, and lives an isolated life in a caravan on the edge of a cliff on the Northern Coast of Cornwall.

Her ‘husband’, Branner, took her in after the death of Ia’s parents when she was 12. But he didn’t touch her until she turned 15; “Despite no ceremony no ring she’d learnt to abide had made the van her home and she kept his dream of rebuilding the surrounding ruined cottage into a worthy house give him babies whatever he wanted she would do it.”

This way of writing with long sentences and broken punctuation felt unnatural at first, but I quickly got used to it and I think it helped strengthen my connection as a reader with Ia; it’s written as she would speak aloud, her thoughts fragmented and running into each other. Once connected, the book becomes an intimate experience, and you can’t help but feel like you’re right there with Ia.

The date is unclear, as we are given barely any hints as to what is going on outside of Ia’s own isolation. We can assume it’s the not-too-distant-future, as we meet a man who once served in the Iraq war. What we do know, is that there is some sort of civil war going on; the army was called in but was unable to tell between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ gangs, both desperate in their fight to just survive. We know that fuel and food is scarce, houses and shops lay abandoned, and the roads have been pulled apart and reclaimed by nature.

None of these things really concern Ia. She keeps to the van, the coast and the cliffs, outcast by the rest of the campsite, and in fear of Bran’s roaming fists. Similarly as a reader, I didn’t desire to know much more about the outside world. I was completely absorbed with Ia.

She has endured 13 years of abuse, neglect, and manipulation – so much so that she is unable to separate herself from it. But one day, the tide brings her a gift; a girl, half-drowned. Ia saves her and hides her from Bran, hoping that this girl could be her relief from a life so bleak. During this time she also meets a man – Jenna – and with him, the smallest chance that her life could be something more. Something better.

All Rivers Run Free follows Ia and her breakaway from Bran and the enduring in silence. It’s desperately heartbreaking and raw, but also beautiful, full of symbolism and discovery.

I didn’t want it to end, but at the same time I was desperate to know how Ia would fare. I so wanted her to be happy and safe at last. I won’t spoil the ending for you – but if anyone else has read it I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I will 100% be recommending  this book to everyone.

He looked across the beach and down at Ia and she smiled, if only he knew how many stood in the sand beside them, they were river running, freedom found.

– Final sentence

5 Stars (5 / 5)

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