Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

five rivers.jpgWhat I thought:

Five people’s worlds collide in an instant. A car crash binds worlds together in ways none of them could have imagined. The premise of this book drew me in: coincidence, serendipity, luck (good or bad) and what happens after to those involved in the aftermath.

The book is set in the city of Salisbury, somewhere I have never actually been but would like to go – the author apparently grew up there and I have to say that parts of the book did read like a love letter to the city, piquing my curiosity. The five rivers of the title really do meet on a wooded plain in Salisbury and the story (or stories) is constructed around the lives of five different characters whose lives also meet in one spot without warning one day.

While this book, for me, was a bit of a slow burner, by a third of the way through I was captivated, mesmerised and enchanted. It’s rare for an author (particularly one who is only in his mid-twenties) to be able to so keenly observe and understand characters in a way that you feel what they feel and you can find parts of yourself if every character (if you’re brave enough to admit it), crossing age, class and social boundaries.

A drug-dealing flower-seller, a school boy in the throes of his first love, a widower who is questioning the point of life alone, a lonely army wife and a security guard who is trying to find himself again in the familiarity of his old town. These are the characters that fate throws together that night. I am tempted to say that the book actually reads like several short stories but that would be doing it an injustice in this case as there are threads (both strong and tenuous) that bind them together in ways they do (and don’t) realise.

If you’ve ever lost anyone to death or the end of a relationship, if you’ve ever felt regret for the life you didn’t have, if you’ve ever felt lonely even in a crowd or if you’ve never figured out what your purpose is, you will find something that resonates in this book. The characters – Rita, Sam, Geroge, Alison, and Liam – independently tell us about their stories and it makes us realise how we never really know what’s going on behind closed doors. We all wear masks, and wear them well, and few people ever see past the face we present to the world or even to ourselves, but when all said and done it’s love, hope, fear and regret that connect us.



I said earlier that this book felt like a love letter to Salisbury, but I would also go as far as to say that it is a love letter to humanity. I absolutely loved it. I was astounded by Norris’s perception of people, and his empathy and gentleness with them. There were moments I had to stop to draw breath or even write something down, and it is so rare that I do this when reading a book. I came to Five Rivers with little expectation and left it with a sense of awe. Highly, highly recommended and I cannot wait to see what Norris comes up with next. He has a fan.





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