The Barrowfields is a coming-of-age novel which follows the life of Henry Jr. It is also a family saga which chronicles the lives of three generations of a family from Old Buckram in North Carolina. The story begins with accounts of lives of Henry Jr.’s parental grandparents. His parental grandparents are hill people and not well-off or educated, and it surprises them and the people in the village to never see Henry Sr., their son without a book. When Henry Sr. announces he wants to be a writer, he faces his parents’ skepticism. So he leaves Old Buckram with hopes of someday pursuing a career in literature.
Years later once he learns his mother has fallen sick, Henry Sr. returns to his old village with his pregnant wife. In this small town Henry Sr. becomes a misfit due to his literary aspirations, nonetheless passes on his love for books to his son, Henry Jr. Henry Jr. holds his father in reverence, so when tragedy strikes the family, he finds it hard to reconcile with his reality.
The Barrowfields is a painful novel. It speaks of depression and how loss and grief can affect relationships. It is a well-written story. But more than the story itself, it is the literary references I liked about it the most. There are a number of books mentioned in The Barrowfields, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Stranger – some of my personal favorites. Phillip Lewis also alludes to real life events without mentioning their significance, so I felt like he is taking me on an Easter egg hunt! 😀
The one complaint I had about this novel is that it is slow-moving. Other than that, I think it is a fine debut!