The River Twice by John Bemrose 

I sit in silence, the sun shines through the window upon my face as I read the last words of The River Twice. The stillness of the moment is eerie. So many thoughts run through my head as I begin to process this beautiful story that John Bemrose has given us. Beautiful but painful. It has left me with so many unanswered questions which would normally drive me insane upon completion of a book, but I am strangely calm. 

“Different for everyone, the wounds of war, physical and psychological, are described in The River Twice

Different for everyone, the wounds of war, physical and psychological, are described in The River Twice, which follows Ted on his journey to find himself again after he returns from the First World War. Suffering from what we then knew as shell shock, he wanders the woods and riverbanks every day as walking is the only thing that keeps his mind partially at ease. When he slows down and sits too long, the war and all its horrors sneak up on him.  His doting wife, Miriam, tries her hardest to make Ted comfortable but cannot understand why he will not talk to her. The longer Ted is home, the farther the two drift apart. As the couple struggles to keep their marriage intact, Miriam’s sister Grace and her secret trauma also haunt the house causing much upset in the family home. As Ted and Grace become close, the story of Ted’s time in the war begins to unfold and we are taken back to the French countryside where we learn of the events that have left him a changed man. 

The River Twice treats the reader to many different views, opinions, and consequences of war. One minute you see things through Ted’s eyes, then Miriam’s but you also get to know a few smaller characters and learn how they were affected by the war as well. Everyone in the small town where this story is set has experienced something different. One did not have to fight on the front lines to feel the pain. Life after the war was never ending suffering that was passed on to the parents, spouses, and children of those who fought. The poor souls who made it home were faced with a mental illness that none had known before and the family and friends who attempted to play the part of therapist were incredibly unprepared for the care the veterans required. This novel explains how trauma can leave a person unrecognizable even to themselves and that some wounds never fully heal.  

Bemrose’s writing in The River Twice is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read. His descriptions of the countryside are rich and vivid, and his characters are so real I feel as if I know them. Watching Miriam’s character develop throughout the novel was immensely powerful because it was she that had to change the most to overcome the situation her family was in. I felt a lot of emotion while reading this novel and I know it was because Bemrose was able to bring the characters and surroundings to life in such a poetic way. I felt so angry and sad throughout most of the novel that sometimes I had to put the book down and walk away. I could feel the shame, guilt, fear, and confusion of the characters creeping out of the novel. There were other times when I could not put the book down because I just had to know what would happen next. 

As beautiful as this novel was, the way the story ended terribly disappointed me at first but the longer I sit with it, the more I appreciate it. We were never meant to reach a point of complete satisfaction in this story because this is not a fairy tale, it is a tale of sadness and unanswered questions; a tale of real-life people learning how to cope and move on after a traumatic event. Bemrose has done an expert job of showing how the traumas of war are like a river that runs through us all, always changing but never-ending. The River Twice has earned a spot on my top shelf, and I highly recommend it to all. 

John Bemrose’s first novel, The Island Walkers, was a national bestseller, a finalist for The Giller Prize, and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Bemrose was born and raised in Paris, Ontario, a place that has inspired the settings for his fiction, including his latest novel, The River Twice. He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thistledown Press (May 30 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 354 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771872209
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771872201

Laura Patterson is a Registered Acupuncturist and a QA Lab Technician from rural New Brunswick where she lives with her husband and twin boys. She has a BSc in Biology and a Diploma in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. When she's not working in the lab or in her clinic, she enjoys camping and adventuring with her family, reading many books, and writing book reviews.