In the follow up to her acclaimed novel Shelter, Sarah Franklin returns to the Forest of Dean, this time exploring what it means to belong to a rural community in a rapidly changing world.
Jo grew up in the Forest of Dean, but she was always the one destined to leave for a bigger, brighter future. When her parents retire from their butcher’s shop, she returns to her beloved community to save the family legacy, hoping also to save herself. But things are more complex than the rose-tinted version of life which sustained Jo from afar.
Tessa is a farrier, shoeing horses two miles and half a generation away from Jo, further into the forest. Tessa’s experience of the community couldn’t be more different. Now she too has returned, in flight from a life she could have led, nursing a secret and a past filled with guilt and shame.
Compelled through circumstance to live together, these two women will be forced to confront their sense of identity, and reconsider the meaning of home.
Two women, thrown together by circumstance were the subject of How To Belong, a story that looked at the reasons home might of might not mean home.
Both women were completely different, Jo, a barrister, intelligent, successful. Tessa, a loner, a farrier, a woman who struggled with everyday life and people.
There was something about Jo that I could relate to, the return home after many years away, somehow expecting things and people to be the same, to slip seamlessly into what was before. I had done the same, I wasn’t a lawyer but had enjoyed a successful career in libraries before switching to a career in GP practice completely out of my comfort zone. I could see the same struggles Jo had with friends who had moved on, didn’t have the same life views, and in her best friend, Liam’s case perhaps resented her, so it as upsetting the equilibrium that had existed.
Tessa was so different and this was where Franklin’s narrative really shone as she showed a woman who struggled with anxiety and mental health issues, who seemed to collapse and lose control as soon as someone probed too deeply or a situation fell out of her control. Her internal anguish was laid bare, her only solace in her work as a farrier until that too fell away. Franklin interspersed the present with Tessa’s past and slowly a picture emerged and you wanted to grab hold of this fragile woman and make everything ok.
Franklin didn’t rush things, she laid foundations, gave reasons for Jo and Tessa’s actions when the time was right or the influence of others pushed their actions to the fore. The relationship between Jo and Tessa was one of frostiness, of wariness before trust ensued and in the end I thought they found solace in each other, answers to a way forward in their individual lives.
Most importantly How To Belong was really a manual, a moral that the place we think we belong was not actually the place that best suited or necessarily where we should be. It showed us that we have to accept where we are in the here and the now, the changes of those around us and that perhaps there is a new and scary way forward.
Whatever you take from How To Belong you will luxuriate in the the wonderful characters and storytelling and be left wondering what happened next to Tess and Jo as Franklin left the novel with an open ending.
Is there more to follow?
I would like to thank Zaffre for a copy of How To Belong to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Sarah Franklin grew up in rural Gloucestershire and has lived in Austria, Germany, the USA and Ireland. She lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes University and has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. Sarah is the founder and host of Short Stories Aloud, and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award.