Holiday Book Review: Haweswater by Sarah Hall

Story telling at it's best - Sarah Halls' debut novel
Story telling at it’s best – Sarah Halls’ debut novel

Sarah Halls’ first novel, Haweswater, is not for the faint hearted. It is a vivid picture of life, love, and death, of the small village of Mardale, in the Lake District. It is set in the 1930s, and it revolves around the intense and passionate life of Jannette Lightburn, her family, and community.

The town, cradled in its remote dale, is changed when in 1936, a representative, Jack Liggett, from Manchester Waterworks, arrives with plans of an impending new dam and reservoir. Janet is revolted by this man and his plans, yet is savagely attracted to him, and he to her, with her wild feral presence, and fierce love of her family, valley, and all that live in it. The love affair that they pursue, leads only to despair, and heartache for those caught up in its wake.

Haweswater Reservoir
Haweswater Reservoir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The picture of this small Cumbrian town is so vividly painted, and the characters so lovingly sculpted, that each one becomes intensely important to you; their lives and motivations, being carefully interpreted on the page. Even the minor characters play an important role in invoking a mood of curiosity in the reader. The Scottish landlord of the Dun Bull Pub, who will emigrate to Canada with his money from the Water Board; the artist with post traumatic stress syndrome from his experiences in WW1; and Janet’s own brother Isaac, with his strange but natural draw to the waters that surrounds them, are all so lovingly crafted, that they give you a sense of belonging, and a compelling interest as to what fate has in store for them.

Why then would you read such a melancholic book? Because it is an experience not to be missed. Halls’ description of life, with its bitter harshness in the fells, together with achingly beautiful prose, describing the haunting atmosphere in which these characters live and bleed, leaves a sadness in your soul, that only a remarkable book can. The clever way she weaves the documented facts of the construction of the Haweswater dam into this marvellous piece of fiction is magical to say the least. Story telling at it’s best.


  • Sarah Hall
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; New edition edition (5 Jun 2003)
  • ISBN-10: 0571209300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571209309
  • Review written by Maxine Antonelli, edited by +Tina Taylor

Leave a Reply