Book Reviews

Winner of the Kate O'Brien Award, Follow Me To Ground is an astonishing debut that introduces readers to a memorable heroine in a lyrical, mysterious, tale.

Reviewed by: Sheena Barrett

Relishing a Reread: Getting back to Sue Rainsford’s Follow Me to Ground

Reading Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens recently, I was reminded of Sue Rainsford’s book, Follow Me to Ground, which I had read some years ago when it was first published. The visceral descriptions of an embodied relationship with nature in Owens’ book prompted me to think back to Ada, Rainsford’s lead character, fiercely connected to the land around her and distinguished by her difference to the ‘cures’ or humans. Both Ada, and Kya, the girl at the centre of Owens’ story, share a depth of knowledge so powerfully rooted in nature, they are a threat to the communities they live on the periphery of. While Owens looks at the historic effects of class, race and poverty as the chief forces at play in Kya’s exclusion from her locale, Rainsford’s strength is in pulling us into a fictional realm so richly described you recoil at the smells and physically feel yourself looking away as Ada reaches inside a body, shifting organs, to heal a cure.

I had always meant to reread Follow Me to Ground. It’s a short novel and its story is so fresh and new I found myself racing through it, while knowing I wanted to return to enjoy Rainsford’s use of language. It’s both measured and oozing. In it, she describes a place you feel you’ve seen in American movies, the outskirts of towns in Spaghetti Westerns, or swamp lands, places that go by their own rules, always on the edge of being reclaimed by nature itself. No conventional doctors here. Instead we have Ada and her father. The locals visit to be cured of all ailments. What are described like cancers are physically removed from the body, but they always go somewhere. This operation might happen on the living room couch, or might require a longer healing period, buried in the patch of ground that ties Ada and her father to this place. The locals rely on these strange healers. Who is not desperate enough to want to be cured? But the methods are unorthodox and suspicious and there is throughout a sense that the unwritten contract between cure and healer is delicately balanced.

“No one was quite sure what they could and couldn’t do – a lot of people thought they could see the future. All that kind of thing. I just went there and asked them to put me straight out. Always said Do whatever you need to and tell me about it later.”

Different characters are introduced and interrupt Ada’s own description of her actualisation, moving from a figure purely of her father’s making, to having more agency than we might have at first expected. Her relationship with Samson creates a space for reflection on her own wants but also intensifies the difference between healer and cure, her outsider status and her origins. It also becomes the source of a ‘new kind of knowing’ as she learns more about her own agency and capabilities to do harm as well as heal, to have dreams unseen and unimagined by the father who created her. The real joy in this book is the journey you take deep into the world created by Rainsford, wholly believing a fictional tale while at no turn knowing where you are going. There’s nothing predictable, and rereading only sucked me in deeper.

“I was tired and my eyes felt large and unruly in my head”.

Sheena Barrett joined Dublin City Council fifteen years ago to lead the development of the LAB Gallery. She is a graduate of University College Dublin. Having previously held roles at Breaking Ground public art commissioning programme, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland, she has extensive experience in supporting artists and producing ambitious public programmes in a range of contexts. Sheena is a trained Visual Thinking Strategies coach and is a founding member of Monto Arts.

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