Book Review: Slow River

I can’t remember who recommended it, or where I heard about it, but I recently read Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, republished as part of Hachette’s SF Masterworks series (it won the 1996 Nebula Award and Lambda Literary Award).


Set in the not-too-distant future in a city that might be in England, Slow River is about a young woman struggling for control of her life in the aftermath of her kidnapping and from the shadow of a hidden identity. From Amazon:

Lore van de Oest awoke in an alley to the splash of rain. She was naked, a foot-long gash in her back was still bleeding, and her identity implant was gone. She had been the daughter of one of the world’s most powerful families . . . and now she was nobody. And she had to hide.

One of the many things I liked about this novel is the structure. Three interwoven threads tell Lore’s story in different time periods:

  • in the ‘present’ — Some three years post kidnapping, Lore makes some changes in her life to take control of her situation and embrace her future.
  • the recent past — Commencing at the point of her escape and spanning the last three years, Lore deals with issues surrounding her family, the woman who has taken her in, and the world she has been drawn into.
  • childhood — A chronological account of her privileged upbringing right up to the point of her kidnapping just before her 18th birthday, including the familial relationships that are revealed to be critical to who she has been and who she has become.

I also like that it’s an SF genre story focused on character, rather than big ideas and epic events. The SF aspects are almost incidental, but serve the story well to give it that distinct flavour of ‘other’. Events are limited in scope to Lore’s world — major for her as an individual, but barely a blip on the radar of world events. It’s a personal story in entirety. It’s Lore’s story.

And beautifully written.

Slow River is a book I’d recommend to those who want a contemplative reading experience. It’s not fast-paced; nor did I find it a truly immersive experience, where the world fell away. But what it lacks in action and excitement, it has in thought-provoking themes and exquisite craft.


To read what books others are recommending for this week (and last week!), check out these wanafriday posts:

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Slow River

  1. I’ve never been brave enough to create a story that weaves different threads in time. I think it’s because when I’ve read books constructed that way, one thread seems to have more energy than the others, and then I get impatient when the story cuts away from it.
    But then, patience has never been one of my virtues…


    1. I also think it’s incredibly difficult to do well — by which I mean each strand perfectly informs the others. It makes the reader work harder, yes. Sometimes I just want a straight ‘suck me in’ immersive story. Actually I mostly want that. But Slow River is worth reading as an example of a tapestry woven well.


  2. !!! Ellen, I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone else who’s read Nicola Griffith! It’s been a long time since I read Slow River, so I’ve forgotten most of it, but I remember loving it. Also enjoyed her other SF novel, Ammonite. She finally has a new book out, a historical called Hild.


  3. One of the things I love about doing these WANAFriday posts – especially the ones about books – is the diversity of our interests and the things we enjoy. Like this book. Never heard of it, but now I’m interested in reading it. I like when a writer can do the dual timeline thing and do it well. Time Traveler’s Wife is an excellent example of doing that in one of the complex ways I’ve ever seen. I just love knowing more about a character’s backstory at the same time I’m reading about them in the present. Fascinates me.


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