I picked this book up just from the intriguing and unusual title, and the book lived up to my curiosity. It is full of mysteries and psychological dramas – a bit unsettling in places, but keeps you thinking right until the end. Throughout the whole book you are made to feel that things are being concealed – if you are given one bit of information then you still feel there are lots of other bits that are still hidden. It is a powerful book, showing how past secrets can come back to haunt you.

The story is about Amanda and her life and the dramatic traumas she has faced, and how these have affected her choices and actions. The main mystery concerns the death of her sister Mathilda, who drowned, and the circumstances surrounding this incident. Ruth (of the title) is Mathilda’s daughter and she was there (with Amanda) at the time Mathilda died, but is too young to recall the details or make sense of anything she remembers. The main storyteller is Amanda, but (as a reader) you don’t fully trust her so are unsure whether to believe her descriptions – this contributes to the feeling that there are many things still concealed. The story also goes back and forward through time, with Amanda’s recollections, and this adds to the feeling that you are only being given glimpses of incidents and their significance. It also made me feel as if I had joined the story halfway through, rather than at the beginning, so from the start of the book I felt as if I was trying to catch up. I found this made the story very gripping right from the start, and made me keep turning pages in order to find out more and to try to clarify things.

Amanda is clearly a very strange and troubled person, and other people in her life seem to think she is odd. However during her narrative she seems lucid and normal – so you are left wondering which is the correct side of her. She shows instances of obsessive and contradictory behaviour – at times she is jealous of her sister Mathilda, and yet other times seems very possessive of her, and yet again can be seeming to be trying to control her. She also shows this possessiveness towards her niece Ruth too.

I found the occurrences of strange illnesses quite mysterious too. Amanda suffers from periods of blindness, exhaustion, numbness in her limbs, and fainting when she is working at the War Hospital – later in the book we do learn more about this time, but these symptoms are not fully explained. When Amanda’s mother is seriously ill there is no label of what she is suffering from, and after her recovery she is left speaking like a child. Amanda also feels enormous guilt over her parents’ death and the part she feels she unintentionally played in this. Altogether, illness seems to be a recurring theme in the book, but it is made (through Amanda’s narrative) to seem a mysterious and uncontrollable thing. Perhaps Amanda decided to become a nurse in order to try and have some control over illness, but I feel that working at the War Hospital must have exposed her to many traumatic and upsetting sights that were perhaps enough to turn an already fragile person slightly unbalanced?

As the story gradually unfolds though we are shown Amanda’s past life and the traumatic things that happened to her, some beyond her control and some caused by her own mistakes. I found myself slowly beginning to sympathise with her and to begin to understand why she acted as she did. This is an extremely clever book – the way the information is slowly eked out to the reader, a trickle at a time, and all eventually building up a bigger picture that was not apparent at the start, and which results in you slowly changing your suspicions of a person. It is like watching all the pieces of a jigsaw come together. The storyline itself is a fascinating one (what happened on the night Mathilda died), but the way it has been written with information hidden and displayed in different orders, adds even more to the feelings of suspense and dread in the novel. It is an unusual and fascinating book.

Drowning Ruth (Paperback)

By (author): Christina Schwarz

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