Sarah Winman’s A Year of Marvellous Ways has a lot in common with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Both novels are beautifully written and blend fantasy with a kind of understated realism. And in Winman’s case, there may be some nice writing to be savoured but it is also a frustrating read overall.
Marvellous Ways is an old woman who lives in Cornwall and is waiting for something to happen. That something is a chance meeting with Francis Drake, a returning solider from the Second World War who is determined to fulfil a dying man’s wish. The two form an unlikely friendship and Marvellous recognises Drake’s sadness. She sets out to try and lift his depression and reignite his passion for life by telling him stories about her three great loves.
There are other characters in this story but this is the crux of it all. In this novel, Winman uses a similar style to her debut, When God Was A Rabbit but there is very little going on. The story is a long and slow character study about friendship, loss and grief.
Winman’s prose is lovely and she treats her characters with a sweet and gentle hand. But the lack of quotation speech marks, difficult character names and the non-linear plot where fragments of the tale are revealed are absolutely frustrating. This means we are introduced to one important character during the home stretch and there are other aspects of the book that seem needlessly added or tacked on.
Sarah Winman is an excellent writer who would make an amazing poet but as it stands A Year of Marvellous Ways seems like a novel filled with lost promise. A far meatier story would have been more exciting than this floating and dreamy, experimental one. In short, this is a sentimental tale boasting lots of lush writing, but having to navigate the quirky world of Marvellous and her strange ways is a slog of a journey.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/year-of-marvellous-ways/9381402