Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford
Published by Doubleday, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
From its beguiling synopsis, I expected something more than a little odd when I ventured into Follow Me To Ground, but I was certainly not prepared for a reading experience so startlingly singular.
The fabulist elements found here are far more literal than I was anticipating, and this may prove alienating for some. Ada and her father are not quite human. Though her father’s genesis remains mysterious, Ada was born of the earth, but moulded, literally and figuratively, by her father. They live on the edge of a village, where they are regularly sought out by the locals for their remarkable healing powers. Able to reach inside people to remove sickness and pain, Ada’s gift begins to manifest in erratic and unreliable ways when she strikes up a relationship with a mortal man; a man with a dark nature that could be Ada’s undoing.
There are lots of interesting themes to unpack in this novel. Rainsford is clearly preoccupied with the language used to describe women’s bodies, and the vilification of female power – both of which are made very literal via striking imagery that tilts into body horror at times. There are lots of biblical references, in both events and character names, and an overall tone that draws heavily from folk tales.
With such a metaphorical approach to narrative and character, it seems almost inevitable that the book remains open to interpretation. To me, it speaks about the cost of intimacy, and wilful blindness where love and lust are concerned. It speaks about the misguided ways in which we try to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ others, and the magic of communing with the natural world. Most of all, it feels like a rallying call to women, imploring them to trust their natural instincts; to follow their own desires and sacrifice their talents for no man.
I do feel there was some wasted potential here, however. Far from wanting everything served up to the reader on a silver platter with a neat little bow on top, too many fascinating ideas were merely flirted with; the possibility of greater narrative and thematic impact lost to the book’s ever elusive nature. It felt like the author was always on the cusp of saying something powerful and profound, but never quite found the nerve to bring the reader close enough.
On a more positive note, however, Rainsford’s prose is excellent. There’s a visceral, earthy quality to her writing that establishes a suitably otherworldly atmosphere. It was this that kept me hooked; a mood so darkly compelling and images so arresting that I’m sure the book will linger in my mind for quite some time.
You can pick up a copy of Follow Me To Ground from Book Depository by clicking here.