The Barter by Siobhan Adcock

The BarterThe Barter by Siobhan Adcock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Barter is a deceptively easy read with an ambitious scope. This debut novel follows two women, living 100 years apart, in Texas. Rebecca is a German immigrant who has led a life of (relative) luxury in town with her father and elderly aunt. She marries her childhood friend John, a farmer, and they begin the stark, demanding task of living off the land.
The second woman is Bridget, a young mother living in the same location in the present day. Bridget has recently given up her high-powered career as a lawyer to stay at home with her baby daughter, Julie.
Our story begins as Bridget sees the ghost of a woman in her house. As the plot unfolds, the narrative alternates between chapters detailing Bridget’s increasingly terrifying encounters, and Rebecca’s tragic life, the catalyst for present horror.
The two women mirror each other, for while living in different centuries, they both struggle with similar issues of identity, sacrifice, and what it means to be a “successful” wife, mother, and woman.
Siobhan Adcock is an intelligent author, and one who is clearly trying to write a story with a message that she feels passionately about. I applaud her intentions, but have mixed feelings about the results.
First the good:
The Barter contains two interesting, and very different stories. Bridget’s narrative is written in the style of contemporary domestic noir, and calls to mind thrillers such as The Memory Child by Steena Holmes, and Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant. Bridget goes to yoga, gets coffee at Starbucks, runs out of gas, and wonders how well she really knows her own husband.
On the other hand, Rebecca’s story is a fascinating look into the world of German immigrants living in Texas at the turn of the century. Siobhan Adcock has clearly researched this time period, and I found it fascinating to learn more about a culture that I really knew nothing about. Adcock has the talent of writing historical fiction in which every detail adds to the sense of place. Her inclusion of German fairy tales also created a sense of magic and enchantment.
Now, the not so good:
Adcock’s writing style feels sort of like gorgeous paint spilling all over the place. There is a potential for art there, but Adcock doesn’t have full control of it.
Her writing is lyrical, sometimes beautiful even, but it has a sort of untethered, running-away-with-it feel, which felt sloppy. In addition to this, many of the sentences are long and wordy, and the action in the story (ie, instances of Bridget seeing, and running away from, the ghost) seem repetitive.
On top of this, I found the conclusion of The Barter to be confusing and unsatisfying. It seemed very clear that Adcock was trying to convey a message about women, and sacrifice, and identity. But the metaphor she was using to explain it, and the decisions that Bridget and Rebecca made, didn’t make sense to me. It was disappointing to feel like I had missed the entire point of the story. I did not understand the implications of how Bridget finally dealt with the ghost, or of “the barter.”
And I wanted to understand. Adcock is talking about important stuff…To the Lighthouse, The Awakening, women searching for purpose and meaning kind of stuff. But in the case of The Barter, I was left with the feeling of potential not fully realized. I applaud Adcock for her debut, and hope that in future, her novels will keep the liveliness she brings to history, while including just a bit more structure and clarity.

I would like to thank Dutton Publishers for my advance review copy of The Barter.

View all my reviews

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