Teenager Sally has just run away from a clinic where she to be treated for anorexia. She’s furious with everything and everyone, and wants to be left in peace.
Liss is in her forties, living alone on a large farm that she runs single-handedly. She has little contact with the outside world, and no need for other people.
From their first meeting, Sally realises that Liss isn’t like other adults; she expects nothing of Sally and simply accepts who she is, offering her a bed for the night with no questions asked.
That night becomes weeks and then months, as an unlikely friendship develops and these two damaged women slowly open up – connecting to each other, reconnecting with themselves, and facing the darkness in their pasts through their shared work on the land.
For the first 50-pages or so of Ewald Arenz’s debut novel, Tasting Sunlight, I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of the book. I didn’t particularly like either of the central characters and I hadn’t yet found anything that could be called a ‘plot’. Yet despite this – or perhaps because of it – I could not stop reading the book! Something about the unusual friendship that develops between two clearly damaged women utterly captivated me and, before I knew it, I was at the end of a strangely uplifting story of love, acceptance, healing, transformation, and the power of nature.
Arenz – and translator Rachel Ward – has done a wonderful job of conveying his characters: from teenager Sally’s righteous fury at the perceived injustices of her world to the emotive outbursts that periodically disrupt forty-something farmer Liss’s aura of quiet calm and worldly acceptance. Neither woman is exactly likeable but I wholly believed in them as people, warts and all.
As the novel progresses, it also becomes apparent that deep-rooted trauma lies at the centre of each women. I won’t give spoilers but, although never graphic or gory, readers should be aware that the novel deals with anorexia and disordered eating, physical and emotional abuse, gaslighting, forced confinement, self-harm, and domestic violence. Arenz’s handling of these topics – and his focus upon the way in which both human and natural connections can, gradually, offer healing – is both considered and sensitive, and the result is a powerfully moving novel of connection and transformation.
Tasting Sunlight is a slow and meditative read and, as such, won’t be for everyone. Although there most certainly is a ‘plot’, it is Sally and Liss – and the connections that are gradually built and drawn between them – that lie at the heart of this novel. It is a novel about the small interactions and almost imperceptible alterations in outlook that impact upon our everyday lives, and the small moments in each day that shift something within us. Arenz writes beautifully about the natural world and the solace to be found within interactions with it and, as the novel progresses, labouring on the land becomes a way for both Sally and Liss to come to terms with their pasts and confront their futures.
Overall, Tasting Sunlight was that rare and precious thing: a novel that surprised me. For the first 50 pages, I genuinely think I would enjoy it. Then, to my surprise, I had finished it. And, even more surprising, I couldn’t stop thinking about it! Wonderfully atmospheric, empathetic, and thoughtful, Tasting Sunlight is a powerful and emotional read that resonates long after you’ve turned the final page.
Tasting Sunlight by Ewald Arenz (translated by Rachel Ward) is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. You can also purchase directly from the Orenda Books website.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 June 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!
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