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★★★☆☆

A novel, soon to be hitting our British shelves, that follows the lives – and dreams – of a handful of people living in the fictional town of Santa Lora, after a mysterious virus slips into each of its residents, causing them to fall into a deep, unshakeable sleep.

She has seen this kind of thing before – how one girl can sometimes feel the feelings of another, a different kind of contagion, the way a yawn sometimes jumps from mouth to mouth.

Dreams and the sleep in which they often stem from, have always been a topic of fascination for us all. And this book was everything I expected it to be. A collection of intimately observed strangers, living and struggling beside the ominous weight of a sleeping virus. The question of who might fall ill next, and if they will ever wake up, whistled through this novel – and I think the author handled that spool of thread with care, letting out just enough to keep me bated.

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★★★★☆

We can all see the shape of what is to come for us, she thought. We all know, somewhere inside ourselves, what will be.

I have read this book as one might brave a strong wind: bundled up and ready for anything. My copy of A River in the Trees is well-worn, even after my short time with it, its edges have curled, and its pages wear the speckled marks and crumbs of lunches and dinners. It has been with me as I’ve moved through these early January days – and thanks to it, they have been well-read ones, for sure.

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★★★★☆

From the very first chapter, I knew that this book was a keeper – and, to me, even if its story didn’t unroll the way I wanted it, I knew it wouldn’t matter. Because its prose would carry me through on their own.

The images in its opening alone were weighty and powerful ones – spent with the enslaved man, kept in the belly of the boat, with shoulders “so broad he had to climb those stairs sideways.” Such power in those descriptions of him. The chains that hung from him and made him look “like a fully trimmed Christmas tree.” And when he was led off the boat there were so many chains coming off him with so many men clinging on that he was described as looking like a maypole. And then the baby … snuggled into the curl of his arm – that to the men looked like “a tumor or growth” before they realised it had eyes and arms and legs. I, too, felt chained to this man, to this book. And this scene, as an opening – a small story within a story – held a bleak grandeur that lured me in.

This book pulls up its strength from its characters. Diverse, engrossing, and unpredictable. It follows them tenderly, as their lives unravel – events crossing into each other’s stories and back out again, connecting them briefly, where they had initially thought there was no connection at all. And each of them come to play their part in the event that takes place, during that summer of 1957. When every African American citizen of Sutton, Massachusetts, abandons their homes and livelihoods. Each of them packing their cars and their bags – never to be seen again.

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★★★★☆

The fact is, people tend to be surprisingly calm when they hear news like this. When I found out, the first thing that occurred to me was that I was only one stamp away from getting a free massage on my loyalty card, and I shouldn’t have bothered buying so much toilet paper and detergent. It was the little things which came to mind.

Our protagonist is an unnamed postman who makes a deal with the devil after being diagnosed with a stage four brain tumour. An extra day of life will be granted to him if he agrees to give up something of the devils choosing. Each chapter – each day of the week – is titled ‘If ___ Disappeared from the World’, and I enjoyed this structure. It was neat and tidy and lead me through the story with ease. Each piece explores what the devil has offered to make vanish, and how the postman’s past links to the chosen object/thing.

And so my seven-day odyssey had begun.

Upon finishing the book, two bold points stood out to me:

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