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by Anne Berry
Reviewed by Joyce Nickel

In the wicked British heat wave of 1976, four damaged lives collide in The Water Children. Each of the four characters is enigmatically and passionately connected to water, or to be more specific, the forces of water. Further, each is a survivor of parental childhood neglect, and this influences their adult choices. The novel opens with eight-year-old Owen. On a holiday to a Devonshire beach, his younger sister drowns while under his watch. Two years later, nine year old Catherine and her favourite cousin slide over a frozen pond in Sussex, and when the ice cracks, they become trapped in the icy water. In an orphanage in northern England, Naomi and her alter-ego Mara find respite from abuse by swimming in the sea. And on a primitive sustenance farm in Ireland, Sean relieves his unhappy life by teaching himself to swim in the nearby River Shannon. Now that they are all adults, their lives intertwine in London, where they have come to recreate themselves and escape from their haunting pasts.

After a strong beginning, I have to admit that about half way through this book I wondered whether I actually liked it. I realized, with disappointment, that the novel had fallen into some clichéd areas. First, on a virgin's wedding night, she becomes pregnant when the condom breaks. And then another character suffers a debilitating emotional breakdown after she has an abortion. And finally, there is the stereotypical Irish scoundrel with a serious drinking problem. But after a few groans and eye rolls, I carried on, because despite its overuse of these unoriginal plot and character devices, The Water Children was never boring. Within pages, the novel clicked together again, and I forgave it its flaws.

In The Water Children, author Anne Berry achieves a pleasing balance of dynamic plot and literary description. She has a particular talent for painting evocative word imagery. While reading, I could feel the stifling heat of that London summer, the icy chill during Catherine's winter misadventure, and when Owen and Naomi spend a week at a lake in Italy's Garfagnana, I could feel the soothing mountain breezes freshening a Tuscan summer. Berry layers scenes and events that come together to build a story unlike anything I've read before, and one that stayed with me days after I read the last word.

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