The Earth Hums in B Flat
Every night, 12-year-old Gwenni Morgan flies in her sleep. She leaves the bed she shares with her sister and soars into the night sky, listening to the nighttime sounds of her small Welsh village below. Irrepressible Gwenni — a dreamer full of unanswerable questions and unbounded curiosity — is childlike yet touchingly adult. Reluctantly facing a modern world, she prefers her nightly flights to school and her chores. Blessed with the uncommon insight of a young girl, Gwenni’s view of the world is unparalleled.
Quaint, odd, touched, funny in the head: Gwenni is all too familiar with the taunts of her peers and fields them with equanimity beyond her years. She knows she can no more change her nature than stop the sun from rising. And when a neighbor goes missing, Gwenni turns amateur sleuth, determined to solve the mystery of his disappearance. Little does she realize that the trail she’s pursuing will bring her uncomfortably close to home, and a dark secret.
Vivid, imaginative, yet remarkably unsentimental, The Earth Hums in B Flat is a transporting debut. Strachan has created a magical character in Gwenni — bighearted, inquisitive, and charming as all get-out. Her special way of looking at the world and her ability to transform the ordinary in the extraordinary are poetically rendered in this remarkable story of family, duty, understanding, and forgiveness.
If I had to sum up this novel in two words, they would be ‘Welsh’ and ‘frustrating’. Set in Wales and written by a Welsh author, The Earth Hums in B Flat evokes an incredibly vivid sense of place, heritage and community. For a non-Welsh person some of the names and words may be a bit tricky to wrap your head round – for example, it took me a good few chapters to work out that Tada means Dad and Nain means Gran. (Please feel free to correct me if I’ve got this wrong!)
Welshness aside, this novel promised far more than it delivered. I was drawn to it by the suggestion that it was very similar to What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn, which I loved, but I found that the similarities were quite superficial. Gwenni Morgan, 12 years old, is the typical naïve child narrator, and believes that while everyone sleeps at night she flies over the village. Her home life seems unpleasant, uncomfortable and unhappy. When a local man is found dead in the reservoir, Gwenni sets out to solve the mystery. In doing this, she uncovers some home truths.
I wanted to love this novel, and this may have been why I found it so disappointing. If I hadn’t started it with such high hopes, I may have been far more enamoured with it. After reading a variety of reviews declaring it ‘wonderful’ and ‘superb’, I am left wondering if I missed something important. It was an enjoyable read, with a strong and unusual narrative style, but ultimately it left me cold.