In the Springtime of the Year – Susan Hill

17 Jun

5633997After just a year of close, loving marriage, Ruth has been widowed. Her beloved husband, Ben, has been killed in a tragic accident and Ruth is left, suddenly and totally bereft.

Unable to share her sorrow and grief with Ben’s family, who are dealing with their pain in their own way, Ruth becomes increasingly isolated, burying herself in her cottage in the countryside as the seasons change around her. Only Ben’s young brother Jo, is able to reach out beyond his own grief, to offer Ruth the compassion which might reclaim her from her own devastating unhappiness.

The result is a moving, lyrical exploration of love and loss, of grief and mourning, from a masterful writer.

Susan Hill excels in writing very effective stories in a small amount of space, 170 pages, in this case to be precise.  This offering, on the subject of grief and renewal is, for me up to her usual high standard, if a little slow.

The use of gentle pacing though, is a reflection of the peaceful, idyllic setting in which Ruth exists and existing is the right word, for the feeling of bitter loss and melancholy which runs deep through Hill’s words.  The cutting sense of grief is handled sensitively, the internal thoughts and slow comprehension of this new and difficult life that Ruth is on the cusp of, is a journey that hits all the emotional hot spots of the reader who cannot fail to be moved by the protagonist’s plight.

The reverberation of Ben’s death is not just focused on the immediate family who are a mixed bunch in likeability, but around the close-knit village community as well…all of which are familiar characters who fit into that old English village stereotype, albeit more fleshed out and believable.  I was struck by the way the villagers expected a certain way of mourning almost like it is expected to behave in a certain ‘traditional’ way.  This lack of understanding on the outsiders part fuels the uncomfortable meetings and self-awareness learned by most of the characters.

Despite its size, there were a few places where I found Ruth’s all-consuming grief a little gruelling, the relentlessness of the her internal thoughts was exhausting but also overtly realistic and insightful. I found the book worked better for me with self-imposed pauses in which I reflected on the words.  Like the overall feel of the story, I found myself in no rush to go anywhere, just to be…aware of the moment.

The themes of nature, the cycle of seasons throughout the year and the gradual accepting and acclimatising of Ruth to her new life is a subtle journey.  Gradual rebirth and comprehension of the inevitability, the inexorable essence of it all are harsh lessons but as John Hammond from Jurassic Park said ‘life finds a way’ (through dodgy science). The story may sound sentimental and it is but not overly so, it is the simple thought-provoking messages that Hill constantly underlines which give this book an unexpected spiritual vigour.

This book in short is a underlining, indeed a celebration of the significance and vitality of our lives and although there are such heartfelt and cruel losses, there is a time when an understanding can be had.  A reconciliation if you will, a coming to terms with what life is and it is these perplexing mysteries and life lessons that are what will ultimately define us.


Posted by on 17/06/2014 in Fiction


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25 responses to “In the Springtime of the Year – Susan Hill

  1. Al

    17/06/2014 at 14:12

    Interesting concept. Using the whole of the village instead of just one or two people. After all, when someone is lost suddenly, it does affect for than the immediate people.


    • Ste J

      17/06/2014 at 14:21

      Back in those days it would really have affected many people…we are all so disconnected these days..I think that the beautiful countryside and that idyllic English village vibe really do make it all feel more poignant.


      • Al

        17/06/2014 at 14:32

        A couple of weeks ago, there was an accident out here, and I .. witnessed the aftermath (a vision that will haunt me for the rest of my life) the guy who died lived along the end of my road, and I never knew him. At the time these houses were built, almost two hundred years ago, everyone would have known within a minute. Nowadays, I barely know the people who live in the same building as me.


        • Ste J

          17/06/2014 at 14:36

          It’s a sad state of affairs that communities are getting less and less, in fact there is more WordPress community than local community these days…which is not a bad thing.


  2. Alastair Savage

    17/06/2014 at 14:24

    Very few writers use grief and suffering as the main subject of their novel because the emotional drain on the reader is just too great. This sounds like a book I will have to miss because I just don’t want that level of depression in my life at the moment.
    Another book in a similar vein is Rosshalde by Hermann Hesse. You keep waiting for something good to happen, and it doesn’t.
    Perhaps we’ve just got used to Hollywood movies and their eternal happy endings to be able to handle a bit of dyed-in-the-wood perpetual misery.


    • Ste J

      17/06/2014 at 14:30

      Perhaps more series and films should take a leaf out of Blake’s 7’s book. I am still to read Hesse but thanks for the heads up on that particular book, I will not make that my first read. Hill does bring up some good points but overall the book is very gradual in its movement towards acceptance…it is a moving book which can either be good or bad depending on the reader.


      • Alastair Savage

        17/06/2014 at 15:03

        Steppenwolf is the best place to start with Hermann Hesse. It sets you up nicely for The Glass Bead Game, which is dense but rewarding. Rosshalde may well be the most depressing book I’ve ever read, or at least, finished!


        • Ste J

          17/06/2014 at 15:08

          Excellent, I will take that advice on board!


  3. renxkyoko

    17/06/2014 at 14:34

    It will take time to recover from loss of a beloved. Each person has his/her own way of coping. * I cling to happy memories *


    • Ste J

      17/06/2014 at 14:42

      That is the best way…keep the happy in the forefront of your mind and celebrate the good thoughts. In the book it was the sense of dislocation that Ruth felt from everybody which made it interesting. I imagine it was the close knit nature of the time that made it strange compared to these days when there is less interaction between neighbours.


      • renxkyoko

        17/06/2014 at 15:17

        I do think less interaction with friends and neighbors makes it harder to recover. It’s more difficult to recover when one is left alone with his/her sad thoughts.


        • Ste J

          17/06/2014 at 15:19

          True, there is no distraction, just time to think and wallow in sadness…if only people were more around for each other life would have more quality to it.


  4. readinpleasure

    17/06/2014 at 17:19

    We performed poorly when we met the Americans yesterday at Brazil, my friend.


    • Ste J

      17/06/2014 at 19:07

      I feel your pain with a first game defeat…you have a tough challenge getting out of the group now…beat Portugal and I will be happy though!


  5. Claire 'Word by Word'

    18/06/2014 at 08:29

    This is a brilliantly written novella of one young woman’s journey from grief to acceptance, made all the more palatable by the extraordinary use of language to convey her experience without being sentimental. It was a deliberate slow read for me, because I would love to understand how she is able to do that. A master at work definitely.

    Absolutely loved her other books, A Kind Man and The Beacon, of a similar nature. I reviewed In the Springtime of the Year here, if you are interested. Interesting to see how different the new modern cover is, it was republished last year and given a more contemporary look.


    • Ste J

      20/06/2014 at 16:45

      I remember commenting on your post, crikey I looked young then. In fact I hadn’t heard of this book until you reviewed it. I like
      I wish I would have written what yo just said, that would have summed it up better than I did…I agree with you a master indeed.

      The modern cover and also the one with the man’s face in the tree, which seems a little grim after reading about Ben’s demise…although I suppose the nature and rebirth theme has something to do with that. I have read The Beacon but not A Kind Man, I shall add that to the list post haste.


  6. Seyi sandra

    18/06/2014 at 13:08

    Seems this is going to be a great read. Loss is powerful in a way, it makes you know how impermanent life is, and then if you are wise, you reach out to people, friends and even strangers. I have more friends now than I did a decade ago.

    Great review by the way, you always bring your books to life… and ehm… I’m still waiting for that list of books… though I’ve not checked my Gmail account in weeks!
    Much love! 🙂


    • Ste J

      18/06/2014 at 18:23

      It does underline the importance of not getting bogged down in all the daily rubbish but to live. I sent that list through to you the day after we spoke about it because I am just that good! It is always good to hear that my reviews interest you…I hope I continue to improve and entice you with even more treasures.


      • Seyi sandra

        18/06/2014 at 20:49

        Thanks Ste J! I’ve searched through my mail, I couldn’t find it! Never mind, I’ll scour through again, you’re really good!


        • Ste J

          20/06/2014 at 16:23

          I sent it through again for you my friend…I hope it is worth the wait!


  7. anna amundsen

    21/06/2014 at 18:48

    I so love reading anything set in English countryside.. Well, all right, not really ANYthing..
    This one sounds very inviting and I’m putting it on my list right away!


    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:20

      I think it will be your cup of tea as it is beautifully descriptive of nature and solitude.


  8. LuAnn

    22/06/2014 at 19:43

    I’m not sure why I am drawn to reading about loss. Perhaps it is the overcoming that I am drawn to; whatever the case, I believe this is one that will have to hit my bookshelf soon.


    • Ste J

      23/06/2014 at 13:50

      I think you are right, it is the experiences and thoughts of another which help us to learn and reflect on life. It is a wonderfully written book and one that will enhance your bookshelf.



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