‘For more than a century, the small town of Haddan, Massachusetts, has been divided, as if by a line drawn down the centre of Main Street, separating those born and bred in the ‘village’ from those who attend the prestigious Haddan School. But one October night the two worlds are thrust together by an inexplicable death and the town’s divided history is revealed in all its complexity. The lives of everyone involved are unravelled: from Carlin Leander, the fifteen-year-old scholarship girl who is as loyal as she is proud, to Betsy Chase, a woman running from her own destiny; from August Pierce, a loner and a misfit at school who unexpectedly finds courage in his darkest hour, to Abel Grey, the police officer who refuses to let unspeakable actions – both past and present – slide by without notice.’
I felt – correctly so – that The River King would be a great choice for a Sunday afternoon. I very much enjoy Hoffman’s work, but hadn’t read any of it for quite some time before picking this tome up. Her books are rather easy reading, but are well – and intelligently – written. They also deal with a lot of important themes; here, bullying and the mystery of the death of a teenage student take centre stage.
As in all of Hoffman’s work, there is a strong sense of place, and of society, here. It is absorbing from the first page, and evident is the way in which Hoffman has the real knack of being able to follow numerous, and realistic, characters almost simultaneously. Rather than being set within a small town, as have the other Hoffmans which I have read to date, The River King is set largely within a boarding school, in which two students primarily, and a couple members of staff are followed. Although we learn about other characters around them in later chapters, these four essentially become her focus.
The River King has been nicely structured, and as with her other work, I could barely put it down when I had begun. The long chapters have been well paced, and the entirety is filled with telling details and small cruelties perpetrated by several secondary characters. The River King is an achingly human novel, with elements of Hoffman’s trademark magical realism. It left me spellbound.