This seems to have taken ages to come round but it is finally my turn on the blog tour for The Barefoot Road by Vivienne Vermes. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author and the publisher for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
‘A young woman is found, emaciated and unconscious, in the mountains surrounding a village in Transylvania. When the villagers discover that she is of the same ethnic group that was violently driven out of the region many years before, they are reminded of their part in the bloodshed, and old wounds are reopen.
An uneasy peace is maintained until a young married man falls in love with her, and tensions rise within the community.
When a child disappears in mysterious circumstances, the tension mounts in to hysteria.
While the story unfolds in the microcosm of a small village in the past, its themes are as universal as they are timeless: the fear of the outside, the supernatural versus the rational, and the force of desire between man and woman.”
I really love the cover of this book. The naivete style of the drawing completely complements the story of a small, remote village deep in Transylvania with unworldly and unsophisticated people trying to address issues that they cannot name or begin to know how to deal with.
This is an adult fairy tale in the very best tradition of the originals, which were written as morality tales for children, but told in a modern style (although set in an earlier time) and dealing with very modern and relevant issues for our current society.
The book’s prologue tells of a previous violent purge by the village of an unwelcome minority group living on its outskirts. A generation later, this bloody past comes back to haunt them when a young woman of the same race comes back to the village and stirs up all their ancient fears and prejudices until history threatens to repeat itself.
This book is deeply affecting in its darkness and violence because, despite it being set in a remote place and time, the parallels with current tensions in our own society cannot be ignored and serve to stoke up the fear of the reader as they contemplate how the prejudice, ignorance and fear of the villagers, confronted by an alien in their midst, turn them ugly and their mob mentality is stoked by the rhetoric of a bigoted leader intent on ousting the people in the village with more understanding and liberal views who oppose him. Anything sounding worryingly familiar here?
This book is not a comfortable read. It is quite graphic and earthy in its portrayal of life in this small village and does not flinch from descriptions of sex and violence. However, this is not done gratuitously but is necessary in the context of the story to understand how and why these people act and react as they do. Life here is hard and poor and on the extremes of society, so the actions and behaviour and beliefs of the people are similarly extreme. There is no middle ground for them, just black and white, good and evil, known and unknown and their lives are governed in equal parts by religion and superstition. Their society is rigidly structured and the structure maintained by social standing and peer pressure and societal judgement and anything that threatens this order is regarded with suspicion and dealt with harshly. It is a gut instinct of pack survival – human beings at their basic, primeval reaction to perceived danger. The reader wonders how much more civilised we have actually become ourselves when we feel threatened.
Despite this, the book is also beautiful in the way it is constructed. The writing is poetic, even in its brutality, and the author really brings to life the people and the settings and the whole story in time and place. The prose is alive with description of landscape and flora and fauna to the point that you can feel the oppressive mountains, breathe the thick vegetative smells, hear the running river and the setting completely mirrors the people and the story being told. It is expertly done and it draws you in to the story and holds you tight, even in the throws of the most uncomfortable, uncompromising scenes. I was in the writer’s thrall from beginning to end and left unsettled and stirred and moved, saddened and enraged and altered by the experience of reading. I cannot say I loved the book, because it was too uncomfortable a reading experience for that, but it is a book I am glad I read and is one I won’t forget in a hurry.
The Barefoot Road is out now and you can order a copy here.
The details of the rest of the tour can be found below:
About the Author
Vivienne Vermes is a writer and actress of Irish and Hungarian descent who divides her time between Paris and London. She has published four collections of poetry: Sand Woman, Metamorphoses, Passages and When the World Stops Spinning, and has performed her work in festivals throughout Europe. She is winner of the Piccadilly Poets’ award, the Mail on Sunday’s Best Opening of a Novel competition, as well as Flash 500s prize for short prose and the Paragram national competition for best poem and “petite prose”. She has taught creative writing in universities in Transylvania, and runs a writers’ workshop in Paris.
As an actress, she has played roles in a number of French films, including Les Trois Frères, Le Retour and in Les Profs 2 in which she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II. Her voice also warns passengers on the Paris metro to “Mind the gap”.
The Barefoot Road is her first novel.
Connect with Vivienne: