Unleaving is a story with several layers. Sian Collins spent time in Africa and her familiarity with the country, sights, sounds, smells and attitudes is deftly evoked in this novel. The historical background is well researched and the class differences and racial prejudices of the time apparent through the attitudes of the characters. At no point does the reader feel preached at because this is the past where things that were accepted then are no longer the case. It’s an interesting story, unfolding gently and beautifully written.
The protagonist, Margaret Lewis, is a bright young woman but constrained, to an extent, by the conventions of her time. Her parents are landowners in the Towy valley in Wales but there are money worries. When a man, Percival Flynn, arrives with news that Margaret has been bequeathed a farm in South Africa it seems logical for them to sell up and move. This causes a rift between Margaret and one of the tenants, her best friend, Wil Hughes.
Her father dies in Durban and the farm, Thorneybrook, is run down and neglected. However, Margaret, her mother Mrs Lewis, and Nansi the maid, decide to move in. Margaret employs Wil as manager and things start to improve. But, strange things happen, and Margaret wonders if the house is haunted. Percy and his friend Mary seem to be hiding something and Margaret is determined to find out the core of the mystery.
Unleaving was a compelling read with beautiful descriptions of place and time. The heat in Durban, the flash floods and the dust in South Africa all contrasting with the softness of Wales and Margaret’s longing for the past brought this story to life.
Unleaving is published by Gomer. This is Sian Collins’s debut novel.