Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Nicola Griffith's second novel, Slow River, is the archetypical Cinderella story. Frances Lorien van de Oest is the daughter of the wealthy van de Oest family, growing up with a life of privilage and luxury. The novel opens with Lore escaping from kidnappers following a three month period during which they issued very public ransom demands. Instead of returning to her parents, Lore inexplicable chooses to remain with the minor criminal who first finds her, Spanner.
At first, Lore's actions do not seem particularly logical, although we quickly discover that she was a victim of some form of abuse as she was growing up and has no faith in her family. Nevertheless, throughout the entire book there is a distinct feeling that Lore is simply playing a role, knowing that she can return to her life of luxury at any time with merely a call.
Lore's flip side is her savior, Spanner. Operating outside the law, Spanner has no desire to be bound by the confines of twenty-first century jurisprudence. Her reasons for helping Lore are esoteric at best. Rather than trying to turn her knowledge of Lore's identity and whereabouts to her own advantage, Lore conceals the facts, helping Lore in whatever ways she can.
For an eighteen year old, Lore demonstrates an amazing amount of knowledge, almost an obsession, with water purity. Griffith describes how one of Lore's sisters scared her with stories of tainted water when she was growing up. Lore became so scared of tainted water that when she is forced to get a job in a water recycling plant, she knows more about safety and procedures than any of the people who have been working there for years. This in depth knowledge detracts from any feelings of reality which Griffith gives to Lore. Although I could understand her having a deep theoretical knowledge of the water filtration systems, actual technical knowledge seems to be far-fetched.
Lore's story is told during several different periods. The earliest shows her growing up in her father's house and hints at the abuse we will later discover in more detail. The second details the period immediately after her escape from the kidnappers and falling in with Spanner. Finally, we are shown Lore as she begins to make a life for herself. These three periods are woven together in an unfortunately complex manner. The reader frequently finds a short period of disorientation as they try to re-acclimatize themselves to a different chronology with little, if any warning. Although this is less of a problem when Griffith examine's Lore's youth, it can be exasperating when describing the two later periods of Lore's life.
Unfortunately, Slow River does not live up to the reputation Griffith built with her first novel, Ammonite.
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