Title: Red Gifts in the Garden of Stones

Author: P. A. Swanborough

Publisher: Two Feathers Press, 2024; RRP: $25

Pam Swanborough was originally from Melbourne, Australia, and for many years lived in the UK. She currently lives in rural Victoria. In 2019, she was runner up in the Best Regional Writer / Best Fiction in the GMW Emerging Writers competition run by Writers Victoria. Swanborough, a member of Ballarat Writers, also completed an Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing in 2021 at RMIT, Melbourne.

Red Gifts in the Garden of Stones is set in Wales and represents a unique level of observation and understanding by the author regarding the layers of society and family relationships, often hidden but in full view for those who look hard enough. It’s set in the 1960s  although at times if feels like 1860. Rich in language and description, this novel follows the lives of the four women who live in a property called Ty Merched: Lizzy, who has just turned 100; her daughter Myfanwy; her granddaughter Sarah Maud; and her great granddaughter Jenner.

When their lives unravel, it forces the women to respond and with difficulty change their family dynamics. Jenner, who has less emotional collateral, is a mystical creature who finally, by her circumstances and actions, allows for a shocking secret to be disclosed. Family is central to the plot, and the cultural background of the small Welsh village and its residents is cleverly intertwined. The novel is full of tradition, old-world superstitions, and beliefs. A chorus of ghosts hover but remain at bay, increasing the emotional atmosphere of the story.

Rich in description, Red Gifts in the Garden of Stonesreads as a satisfying lyrical tale. There is little division between the landscape and the characters: they merge and blend together in a manner that invites the reader to follow the threads of the story whilst immersing themselves in  poetic and majestic prose.

The house rests in the folded hills like an old woman abed this spring-dawning morning, blinking her eyes at the first light. The sky cups its cloudy fingers over a pair of hen harriers as they fly their courtship race: rocketing from shade to light as they soar above the hamlet, the road, the chapel, the graves in the dewy damp.

This book is visual and beautifully written. The humour is rewarding and well expressed, and the use of metaphor is excellent. 

Swanboroughhas created a work of fiction that leaves an imprint on the reader’s mind — I could go to the village and recognise it , walk to the police station and then to Ty Merched. I see the ghosts crowding for a closer look and hear the chickens scratching in the straw.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group, April 2024

Review copy supplied by the author