Star rating – 9/10
Ron Rash has written a beautiful, moving, and thrilling novel in ‘The Cove’. It strays into the territory of ‘Cold Mountain’ or ‘Winter’s Bone’, as it depicts life in a dark, dank, cove in North Carolina nearing the end of the First World War.
Laurel and her brother Hank live there alone, their parents having died and now lying in mossy graves nearby. The local people don’t venture there if they can help it, and they are convinced that Laurel is a witch due to a large red birthmark she has. Hank is due to marry and break up the sibling solitude. And then their hard and simple lives are changed forever by the appearance of a stranger who plays beautiful music on his flute by the banks of the waters. He lets them believe that he cannot speak, but is really hiding a secret, and hiding from others.
Rash skilfully sets up the outcome as a tragic one in the short prologue, but it is not clear exactly to whom the tragedy will befall until the last pages, adding to the tension as the novel reaches its thrilling climax. The parallel narrative of a local army recruiting officer, who is trying to prove his worth without going into action, is skilfully interwoven.
As I was reading the book I was imagining Jennifer Lawrence in the film version as the heroine Laurel, and then I learned that she is about to star in an adaption of another one of his books, ‘Serena’, so I was on the right lines. Rash describes the world of Laurel and Hank in the cold lonely cove in brilliant and transfixing detail. He transports his reader to the poverty of the Appalachian folk in a mesmerising way. And I am certain the film rights to this novel too will be hot property.
I didn’t want this story to end, and will certainly be reading more of Rash’s work. If I read a more beautiful and memorable novel this year it will surely be one to shout about.