Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Book Review: THE RIVER AT NIGHT by Erica Ferencik

The River at Night (Hardcover)

Author: Erica Ferencik
Bloomsbury Publishing Australia
April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

'A thought came to me that I couldn't force away: What we are wearing is how we'll be identified out in the wilderness.'

Win Allen doesn't want an adventure.

After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.

Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.

No phone coverage. No people.

No help. 

My thoughts:

Wow. WOW! Is all I can say as I am turning the last page of this nail-bitingly intense roller coaster ride of a story, staring out of my rain-streaked window and trying to reorient myself to person, place and time, feeling the beginnings of an adrenaline hangover. Undoubtedly, The River at Night is one of the most insanely fast-paced adventure stories I have read in a long time. This, good people, is how you write a good thriller! Containing all the right elements an adrenaline fuelled action story needs to make it memorable, The River at Night appeased my longing for adventure, because I feel like I have been there, on the river with Wini, Pia, Rachel and Sarah, fighting for survival.
Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.
And I was instantly hooked ....

Wini, Rachel, Sandra and Pia are four women just shy of the big four-oh, whose friendship has lasted almost two decades through all the highs and lows of their individual lives: marriage, childbirth, divorce, cancer, substance abuse and bereavement. And even though their lives may have drifted apart over the years, for one week every year the friends take the opportunity to spend quality time together, usually organised by their “fearless leader” Pia. What would be a better group-bonding exercise, Pia tells them, than a white-water rafting trip in the wilds of Maine, away from the constrictions of the city, of work and family commitments? Wini has her doubts (remembering the ill-fated sky diving expedition organised by Pia a few years back).
I couldn’t tell which was worse, the fear of being left behind by my friends as they dashed away on some überbonding, unforgettable adventure, or the inevitable self-loathing if I stayed behind like some gutless wimp – safe, always safe – half-fucking-dead with safety. Why couldn’t I just say yes to a camping trip with three of my best friends? What was I so afraid of?
Pia’s enthusiasm for age-defying adventure is infectious, and in the end the friends set aside their doubts and fears, like they always do.
“Oh, screw it, Pia. You may be one crazy bitch, but you know in the end we follow you around like a bunch of little ducklings.”
And so, one early morning in June, the four women set off in their brand new hiking boots and state of the art waterproof pants to embark on an adventure that is going to take them out of their ordinary city lives and comfort zone for five whole days.
“Just think,” Pia interjected, oblivious. “Over five thousand square miles –“ 
“- of trees, trees and more trees –“ Rachel said, shaking her head.
But soon the adventure takes an unexpected turn even the timid Wini could not have envisaged. And the trip of a lifetime turns into a fight for survival ...

If you are too ensnared in your somewhat mundane everyday life to embark on an action adventure to cross some of those ridiculously ambitious items off your bucket list that may have been fitting for a twenty-year old, what can be better than armchair travel of the most thrilling kind? I am not surprised to read that Erica Ferencik is, amongst other things, a screenwriter, because her writing is extremely “visual”. With her acute observations of the minute details that make a scene more realistic, the story played out like a tense action movie in front of my eyes, following me into my dreams in the form of disjointed images of flowing water and overturned rafts, until I woke gasping for breath, still entrapped in the storyline.

Told in the first person through Wini’s eyes, with protagonists close enough to my age that I could relate to most of their hidden fears, desires and agendas, this was a book I instantly knew I would love – and I did. Cleverly, the author drops just enough information about the four women’s lives to give a solid background and flesh out their characters, without ruminating too much about their pasts. A lot of the tension is based on inter-personal dynamics which are realistically drawn and very relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed Wini’s voice as she tells her story with both an unfailing sense of observation, wry humour and the right amount of terror that had me holding my breath for pages on end, clenching my teeth so hard that it left me with a slight ache in my jaw for days after. Not to speak of the sleep-deprivation for sitting up until late into the night to read “just one more page”, knowing I had to be up at five to go to work. The River at Night will easily make it on my list of most enjoyable and memorable reads of the year, and one I will wholeheartedly recommend to all my friends (and anyone else who will listen). I loved it!

Thank you to the author and the publisher Bloomsbury Publishing Australia  for sending me a copy of this novel as part of their “what was your worst holiday experience” competition.

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