The Barefoot Road reeled me in with its promise of mystery, tension and a difficult history for residents to stomach… and I can assure you I was not disappointed!
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Vivienne Vermes’ debut novel is a gripping read which will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, thrillers and evocative themes. The book begins with a young woman found, emaciated and unconscious, in the mountains surrounding a village in Transylvania. When it is discovered that she is of an ethnic group which was violently driven out of the regions many years before, old wounds are reopened as the villagers are reminded of their role in the bloodshed.
An uneasy peace is maintained until a young married man falls in love with the girl, and tension begin to rise within the community. The mysterious disappearance of a child causes this tension to mount into hysteria, driving the story to its chilling outcome.
I love books that tackle difficult themes. A number of my favourite books hold that accolade for precisely that reason; To Kill a Mockingbird and The Green Mile are but two examples.
The historical context of The Barefoot Road is clear straight away. In the first chapter, we re-live the persecution and slaughter of a community. When a young woman from that community is brought into the village, mistrust broods. As soon as anything untoward happens the blame falls at her feet; the villagers are quickly roused into seeing her account for her actions.
One constructive point I would like to make is that sometimes the narrative comes across a little stiff when referring to main characters by “first name” “last name”. As a significant character, addressing Ioan Trifoi in this way (more often than not) distances him from the reader. It makes the narrative feel a little less personal and Ioan harder to identify with. He does grow on you as the tale progresses. Dropping the formal address could speed this up, in my opinion.
I’m glad that The Barefoot Road portrays society in its darkest moments, and how individuals can get swept up into a crowd for not agreeing with the majority. It is a common thing… but this kind of behaviour can have real, nasty consequences. Naturally, this is not a side to humanity we want to acknowledge or recognise. Yet, it happens…and we should recognise it in order to do something about it.
The tension that builds as the narrative progresses feels very real. As a reader, you cannot help but delve into the book further to watch events pan out. Themes of religion and witchcraft (and the weight characters lend to their importance) go a long way to setting the book. As a huge fan of historical fiction, I really enjoyed this aspect. The underlying motives, agendas and pre-existing relationships of various villagers within the town adds to the tension and conflict nicely.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vivienne Vermes is a writer and actress of Irish and Hungarian descent who divides her time between Paris and London. She has published four collections of poetry: Sand Woman, Metamorphoses, Passages and When the World Stops Spinning, and has performed her work in festivals throughout Europe. She is winner of the Piccadilly Poets’ award, the Mail on Sunday’s Best Opening of a Novel competition, as well as Flash 500s prize for short prose and the Paragram national competition for best poem and “petite prose”. She has taught creative writing in universities in Transylvania, and runs a writers’ workshop in Paris.
As an actress, she has played roles in a number of French films, including Les Trois Frères, Le Retour and in Les Profs 2 in which she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II. Her voice also warns passengers on the Paris metro to “Mind the gap”.
The Barefoot Road is her first novel.