2000 - 2007 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Historical Fiction Recommended books

Haweswater – Sarah Hall


Winner of the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize First Book Award and 2003 Betty Trask Award

I spent my teenage years living in the Lake District and so I have a soft spot for anything set in Cumbria. Haweswater is one of many lakes in the Lake District, but unlike the majority it is man-made; created by the construction of a dam and the subsequent flooding of the valley in the 1930s. Haweswater gives a moving account of how the remote farming community came to terms with the fact that their village was going to be destroyed and describes their final months as they prepare to leave a home that has been theirs for generations.

Photo Credit: Trevor Rickard

Haweswater had an extra impact on me as I visited the village of Mardale when it was revealed during a drought. The photo above shows a typical view of Haweswater as it is today; whilst the one below shows a similar view during a drought – with the roads, demolished houses and farm walls revealed.

Photo Credit: Janet Richardson

I loved the Cumbrian dialect in this book. You don’t hear it on television very often and I think it is the first time I have read a book containing it.

Teddy’s gone fer Frithy. Nowt else to dyah but wait. Thowt aboot garn misell, Sam. Twa arms better un yan, eh? Even auld bugger like misell?

When I first moved to Cumbria I couldn’t understand a word the locals were saying and I suspect that many readers will struggle to understand the dialect in this book. The good news is that the majority of the novel is written in beautiful, descriptive prose and so you will still understand everything that is happening even if you don’t catch what they are saying!

For the last three hundred years or more there often could be seen a man or a child pausing on the bridge to look below at the water, idling in conversation with a companion, or as a solitary, watching the trout rise and flick between the reeds under the bridge. Casting an eye over the river, as if for no other reason than there was water flowing past.

Despite the fact that you know what happens in the end, this is a fantastic story. The characters are very well developed and I felt a strong emotional connection to them. A dark sense of foreboding builds as the novel progresses and the ending is heartbreaking. This is a beautiful portrait of a lost community.

I’m slightly biased, but I highly recommend that you read it.

Have you read any books set in the Lake District?