REVIEW: Onwards Flows the River, Caroline Windsor

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

It is 1971. Hannah Matheson, whose affluent Quaker family lives in Devon, moves to a hostel in London to study for a degree. Her extravert and exuberant personality initially brings her into conflict with the hostel’s caustic deputy warden, Jo Ackroyd, whose abusive upbringing was very different from her own. In desperation Hannah persuades her old schoolfriend, Kate Deveraux, who, following the death of her parents, is often lonely living in her London flat, to come and live with her at the hostel. Kate, a hospital receptionist, has long been valued by Hannah’s family as a calming influence upon their daughter and she is a regular visitor to their home. Kate’s unspoken affection for Hannah’s solicitor brother, Aidan, has grown over the years and she longs for him to notice her. Jo and Kate get on well from the start and Kate is determined to help Hannah overcome her antipathy to the deputy warden. At Christmas Hannah invites Kate, Jo and Jo’s younger sister, Beth, to stay with her in her family’s holiday cottage in Devon. Beth, unlike her atheist sister Jo, has a deep spiritual awareness which is something she finds she has in common with both Kate and Aidan. Kate, however, soon realises, to her dismay, that her love for Aidan is clearly not reciprocated. Hannah, meanwhile, resumes her close relationship with Daniel, a friend of Aidan’s, who is also a solicitor in the family firm – Mathesons. Her passionate nature, however, is constantly frustrated by him and she is driven to look elsewhere to satisfy her needs. 
The book follows the relationship between the three women, as their inter-twining lives and loves threaten to destroy the friendship that unites them.
DNF @ 40%
A book about female friendship, you say? Sign me up, I say.
Here was I, 22-year-old Cass from Leeds, expecting a powerful insight into the lives of young women who attended university in Britain in the early-1970s. All I wanted was vividly real characters and a tale that would wholly suck me into their lives - it wasn’t too much to ask, was it? - but what I got instead was a preachy, offensive and rather badly-written book that was even more pretentious than I am. And honestly, the world-building was so bad that if the synopsis hadn’t informed me that the book was set in the early-1970s, I would have placed the setting over three decades earlier based on how the characters thought.
Firstly, the dialogue is bad in that ridiculously clunky way that hindered my progress in trying to fight my way through its pages - the characters would use phrases that weren’t realistic to everyday use and would give far more exposition than was necessary. And don’t even get me started on how offensive some of the things the characters thought/said were! At one point, a character jokes that she was fine with the guys she had gone out drinking with as “they would only rape [her] if they thought [she] was a Tory”. At another point, someone thinks that finding themselves able to afford a flat would surely “soften the blow” if their parents had died in a similar way that her best friend’s had only a few months before. Things like this, that pop up over and over again the novel are, at best, ignorance and, at worst, offensive. 
Leading on from this, the characters thinking in such ways make them wholly unlikeable and because of that, I lacked any sort of empathy towards them and honestly just wanted to fling the book through the window and be done with it. Furthermore, they all seemingly have strict ideas about what constitutes a good moral character - engaging in voluntary work, religious inclination, interest in high-brow culture - that it makes it seem very clear that the characterisation has been influenced by the author’s own views, and using your art as a vehicle for your own narrow-minded ideology is something that frankly, I just cannot agree with.
There is no feminism in this book, not a bloody trace of it, despite an almost entirely female cast. There was no love between these girls or even just them accepting one another for who they are without any judgement, there was just a critical analysis into why you’re probably a terrible person.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review

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