TITLE: IN THE SPRINGTIME OF THE YEAR
AUTHOR: SUSAN HILL
PUBLISHER: VINTAGE BOOKS
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
After just a year of close, loving marriage, Ruth is a widow. Her beloved husband, Ben has been killed in a tragic accident and Ruth is left, suddenly and totally bereft.
Unable to share her sorrow and grief with Ben’s family, who are dealing with their pain in their own way, Ruth becomes increasingly isolated, burying herself in her cottage in the countryside as the seasons change around her. Only Ben’s younger brother, Jo, is able to reach out beyond his own grief, to offer Ruth the compassion which might redeem her from her own devastating unhappiness.
She closed the door behind her, and then it was quite silent, quite dark. She stood, and she could smell very faintly the dry smell of bracken, coming over the common. Everything was dry now, for three weeks the sun had shone. It tired her. But throughout April and May, it had rained, and that, too, had been tiring, the endless, dull pattering onto to the cottage roof. She had not expected to notice, certainly not to be disturbed by, those things – weather, heat or damp or cloud, night or day, things which existed outside her own self, her own misery. But they had been like burns or abrasions that never healed, irritating her, intruding.
I enjoyed reading In the Springtime of the Year. I have read some rave reviews online but I don’t think Hill’s short, sad novel is quite as good as that. Hill offers a very realistic portrait of one form of grief in In the Springtime of the Year. The characters are very well drawn despite how little time Hill actually spends creating them. I got a real sense of place. The isolation of Ruth’s surrounding mirrors her grief which isolates her from everyone. There were a few ‘lump in the throat’ moments. I was very moved by Ruth’s tragedy.
I think Hill offers a very real portrait of one form of grief in In the Springtime of the Year. Ruth is so devastated when Ben dies that she retreats deep into herself. She cuts herself off in the isolated cottage where she lived with Ben. She scorns offers her help. I felt this was very realistic. I know people whose loved ones have died and who have wanted to be surrounded by people. I also think the opposite is plausible. If my partner died I would do as Ruth does and shut myself away from the world. I would not be able to bear seeing my own pain reflected in the face of others. I think Hill hit the nail in the head showing one way grief can affect someone.
I really liked the characters in In the Springtime of the Year. Ruth is the main character and Hill spends a lot of time inside her head. Hill does a great job of bringing her to vivid life in a few words. I felt I got to really know Ruth by observing her pain and grief. My heart really went out to her. I wanted to give her a hug, pat her back and say there, there. The other characters were also very real despite taking second place to Ruth. Hill is very skilled at making characters leap off the page in a couple of sentences. Aside from Ruth, one of my favourite characters was Potter, the old man Ben worked for felling trees who was with Ben at his moment of death when a rotten tree fell on him. Towards the end of the novel, Ruth comes out of her self-imposed isolation and goes to see Potter. She wants to know about Ben’s death. Potter tells her exactly what happened. This is one of the saddest scenes in the novel. A real tear jerker.
I got a real sense of place from In the Springtime of the Year. Ruth and Ben lived in the rural countryside presumably somewhere in England. Ruth continues to live in the cottage after his death. Hill vividly describes the isolation of the landscape to such an extent I felt like I was really there, walking the hills and valleys. I felt this isolation personified Ruth’s grief as well. I don’t think her self-imposed isolation because of grief and sorrow would have been as realistic if she lived in a big city.
I liked the sense of hope Hill creates in In the Springtime of the Year. Almost three quarters of the way through the novel Ruth decorates Ben’s grave with beautiful flowers. This signals a change in her, a realisation that she is not alone in her grief and it might not to be too late to reach out to others. The rest of the novel deals with Ruth’s attempts to reconnect with people including Ben’s family. One of the most touching scenes is when she visits the minister and his wife. She discovers their newborn baby girl has just died. She is able to get over her own grief and offer the couple some support and comfort. In the Springtime of the Year isn’t all doom and gloom.
I liked the way Hill explored relationships in In the Springtime of the Year. Ruth is only 19 when she meets Ben who is 27. They fall in love quickly and are married within a few weeks. I found the flashbacks to their relationship very sweet. Ruth doesn’t get on with Ben’s family. His younger sister, Alice seems to hate her. His mother, Doris does not approve of their quick marriage. She is an unpleasant woman who does nothing but complain about giving up her shot at fame for an ungrateful family. She gets on okay with Ben’s father. I thought it was interesting how Ben’s death pulls them even farther apart when you would expect shared grief to bring them closer together. I found it interesting how Hill implied the whole village were affected by Ben’s death. The villagers are hostile towards Ruth when she decorates Ben’s grave with flowers and she realises how much her self-imposed isolation has hurt people.
I thought In the Springtime of the Year was very well written, a real tear jerker. Hill explores grief and heartache without getting too melancholy or depressing. She uses the isolation of the setting of the novel to personify the grief felt by Ruth over her husband’s death. She explores not just the impact of Ben’s death on his wife and family but on everyone who knew him. In the Springtime of the Year tugs at your heartstrings. I’ve read a few of Hill’s novels now. I’ve enjoyed them, especially The Woman In Black but I can’t completely agree with the rave reviews I’ve read of her work. She’s a very good writer just not brilliant.