The Book With the Pretty Cover that Falls Flat

It’s official; I have finished my first book of the year. I started reading it on the plane when I flew back here on the 27th of December, and it took me until January 4th to finish. So, get ready for the first book review of the year: The Earth Hums in B-Flat, by Mari Strachan.


Before I left Madison to come home, I was browsing in the library, in the same row where Scarlett Thomas’s novels first caught my eye, and after pulling out about a hundred books and reading their covers and dust jackets, I chose two, one of which being this one, which I decided to bring with me to read on the plane.

The Earth Hums in B-Flat is a sort of cross-genre novel, straddling fiction, mystery, and young-adult. The cover is beautiful, and the dust jacket description is compelling. It centers on Gwenni Morgan, a 12-year-old girl in 1950s Wales, who lives a relatively simple rural existence with her friends and family, until a local man turns up dead. What unfolds over the next 300 pages include family secrets being exposed, loyalties tested, and Gwenni growing up amidst all the drama unraveling.

Maybe I got lucky with PopCo and the subsequent Scarlett Thomas books, but this one just didn’t do it for me. I wanted to finish it anyway just to see what happened, and because it was a relatively easy read, I did. Not really a spoiler, but a lot of situations are still up in the air at the end, and it’s kind of sad. I really liked Gwenni and how Strachan described her world – I imagined an Avatar-like environment full of misty blues, forest greens, and deep purples – but it seemed like everyone else was kind of doltish in comparison.

The biggest disappointment/shock about this book is that out of the first three sentences of the dust jacket’s description, only about one and a half of them are at all consequential. It reads: “Young Gwenni Morgan has a gift. She can fly in her sleep. She’s also fond of strawberry whip, detective stories and asking difficult questions.” Okay, so the first sentence is on point. The second sentence? It’s mentioned a few times in the book, mostly in Gwenni trying to convince everyone else that she can indeed fly in her sleep, but we don’t really get many flying sequences or chances to see how that affects her. And in the third sentence? I think strawberry whip is mentioned maybe twice in the book, detective stories are not really mentioned at all (she does, however, write an adventure story for a little girl, which plays a role), but she does ask some difficult questions. Mostly questions that are difficult to answer because either there is no answer or she asks them to the wrong person. Isn’t that annoying when it’s like whoever made the dust jacket had no idea of the book’s contents?

Although I don’t think reading it was a waste of time – I got lost in Gwenni’s world so often – I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to pick up the author’s other novel (she lives in Wales and this was her first book).

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