In the knowledge of the untimely death of Marcus Sedgwick late last year Ravencave, his last novel, takes on an even greater significance and poignancy. This unsettling, compelling and beautifully written story of family discord, loss, grief and ghosts is a profoundly moving exploration of the connections between those we love and those in whose footsteps we follow.
James and his family are on a trip to the Yorkshire Dales a place with strong family connections, particularly for his father. This is not a holiday as such but a journey home and all is not well. James’ teenage brother, Rob, is not talking to him, his writer mum has not been able to write anything for months and his dad has lost his job, whilst James himself is engrossed in his own thoughts. He is thinking back to a previous holiday to the same place last year but in happier circumstances. This second trip is dominated by disagreements and friction and one day on a hike through the dales James hears strange laughter and spots a young girl in the ruins of an old farm. She resembles the children his dad had told him about, the wild children of Crackpot Hall, mentioned in an old book in the local second hand bookshop. At first James resists her urges to follow him but when she appears a second time he runs after her and away from his family.
It is hard to do justice to this book in a review without spoilers however, for me as a reader, I found the subject matter and the character of James became entwined with the author himself. Marcus Sedgwick has written about a landscape that he clearly knew and that was important to him. There is a strong sense of place in Ravencave and of its importance to this particular family. Marcus Sedgwick’s writing style is fitting for a novella of this length conveying depth of emotion and layers of meaning with moving simplicity. In this instance a short read does not mean one without a lasting impact. Ravencave is about a family who feel strangely separate from each other initially but with each chapter a little more is revealed about them and their relationships to each other. This gradual understanding of their true situation increases the emotional impact and is executed with great skill.
There is social commentary too and a thoughtful look at the way in which circumstances may repeat themselves, and how working people may be negatively affected by the actions of those who employ or house them. What is equally apparent however is the author’s own belief in the goodness of people generally. The final pages are profoundly affecting in their message of family love and its infinite nature.
“We were there for each other. We still are.”
This is a remarkable piece of writing by Marcus Sedgwick and to achieve this feat and still ensure that it is accessible to a wide readership is impressive. Ravencave is a fitting and lasting legacy for an author who trusted his audience to understand and to care.
I should like to thank Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy which will now be a treasured addition to my bookshelves. Ravencave was published on 2nd March and can be purchased on the publishers website. You may also like to read Marcus Sedgwick’s other YA novella for Barrington Stoke, Wrath, which was longlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal.
Such a sensitive and thoughtful review about a book which has such significance. Thank you Anne. I must find myself a copy.
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Thank you, Jane. The story moved me greatly, it did read a little like a farewell. The ending is profoundly poignant but with hope too. I’m trying not to give anything away.
The FCBG conference looked great, I hope you had a good time.
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