Marram by Leonie Charlton

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Some mother-daughter bonds are hugely strong and able to resist the traumas of all that life can through at them, others have much more traumatic relationships with their mothers, and Charlton was one of them. She took the brunt of her stepfather wrath too, as he blamed her for all sorts of things that were almost nothing to do with her. She left home at the age of 16, heading over to Australia to be a cowgirl, teaching in Japan and Catalonia to do a degree. She forged her own way in the world, but she knew she would never be safe or close to her mother again.

Marram – A coarse grass found on sandy beaches. From Old Norse maralmr, a compound of marr (“sea”) and halmr (“straw, reed”).

She had been out to the Outer Hebrides with her dad a long while ago for a fortnight’s holiday and it was a time that still meant so much to her many years later. He was a rock in her life, offering her the stability that living with her mother never gave her. Seven years after her mother had died, an act that she thought would loosen the bonds between them, she still felt the grief of her death was becoming overwhelming. What she did get from her mother that gave her some comfort was a love of horses, and in the planning for a long-distance trek through the islands of the Outer Hebrides with her friend, Shuna, she came up with the idea leaving a trail of beads as they trekked through.

Getting there with a truck and horsebox is not the easiest journey and the weather is not always the kindest as they were to find out over their two week trip from Barra all the way up to Lewis. However, it is a beautiful part of the world to travel through, and they were to be equally blasted and drenched as well as having glorious days of riding their horses, Chief and Ross. She had a small purse of beads from her mother, who was a jewellery maker. From here Charlton selects one or two beads at certain points on the journey to leave them; a bothy, on a gatepost, on the beach where the sea is just reaching and in some faerie milk holes.

My memories of her are a palimpsest like the sea-licked Lichens on the rocks at our feet, merely a thin breathing skin over the unfathomable story of the rock

I really liked this book because it is very different from a regular travel book. Several themes inhabit the prose; friendship, travel, memory, relationships, landscape and Charlton has deftly folded them together in such a way that they enhance each other, rather than one element becoming overbearing. Charlton is not relying on the natural world as a cure for her past life, rather the journey and the symbolism of placing the beads at significant points in the landscape is a release from the trauma of the past. There are moments of humour and anguish in equal measure, but mostly this is a book that is permeated with human kindness and warmth. Her evocative descriptions of the landscape that they are trekking through make this a special read too. It is one of those parts of the world that I’d love to go to when we’re allowed out again.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Well, I went from unsure to will pick this up if I see it in my read through your review!

    • Paul

      I have a feeling that you’ll like it

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