Feminism and Madness in Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

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Tumultuous would be an understatement to
describe the current political climate in the
states, so I found it quite pleasant to immerse
myself in a very British novel, albeit a murder
mystery. As I’ve said before, I am no fan of the
dime-store whodunits and refuse to read
anything by James Patterson. Sorry, James.
However,I received Flynn Berry’s debut novel,
Under the Harrow in a holiday book exchange
and was hopeful and intrigued. I was not
disappointed!

What hooked me on this book had little to do
with plot. I never care who the murderer is. I
want to get lost in the journey.Berry’s prose
is haunting and beautiful. Her protagonist, the
grieving sister of a murder victim, begins to
lose the self she once was in increments, and
it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of
attempting to act sane and move on, Nora
voices her compulsive thoughts, her demons,
at least through the narrator, if not to other
characters, though she does a bit of that as well.

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Under the Harrow has a distinct voice. It speaks
up and speaks out for battered women without
being trite or overbearing. I found that I liked
both Nora and her late sister Rachel as people
and respected them for the traits and truths
Berry used them to convey about women.Both
have trouble with romantic relationships and
what society expects of them in regard to these.
There are also fringe female characters whose
lives  have taken different turns, cheating
housewives and happy mothers, who serve as
contrasts to the sisters.

Though I wasn’t completely blown away by the
ending, I didn’t need to be. I much more
enjoyed and appreciated Nora’s journey than
the aha! moment near its conclusion.
Still, it wasn’t a bad close and unlike Claire
Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, its ending and
unraveling of secrets is purposeful and
believable. I will follow future Berry
releases but hope she doesn’t limit herself
to crime fiction.

Now onward to Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed!

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