The gulls sitting on the freshly-painted blue railings flap into the morning sky as one,
before peeling off on their individual journeys across the bay, riding the thermals
here, swooping down on abandoned chip papers there … The gulls know their
territory. They stay within the sweep of Morcambe Bay.
- Cath Barton, In the Sweep of the Bay
In the Sweep of the Bay, a novella by Cath Barton, starts in 2009 in the village of Morecambe, Lancashire, where a statue of Eric Morcambe, the British comedian, has been erected. A retired street sweeper takes on the role of part-time cleaner. He watches people, he talks to the tourists and is happy to take their photos. He says: “People are something else; they open your eyes to things you’ve not thought of. They really do.”
At the heart of the story is a married couple, Ted and Rene. Their story starts in the '50s, where they meet at a dance, court for two years and then marry: “His mother got hold of all sorts and put on a wonderful spread, such as they hadn’t seen for years.” The language Barton uses easily conjures up the feel of a bygone era. Ted works for the family ceramics firm, first as an apprentice, but later designing beautiful hand-painted vases. Rene works until she marries, then stops to take care of her husband, the house, and later their two daughters.
In later chapters there are threads of the story told from different characters’ points of view: Dot and Peg (the daughters), Cecily (the granddaughter), Vincenzo and Henry (who live in Italy); Barton has woven the threads of these seemingly separate stories together so they intertwine and come full circle.
Cath Barton’s quiet style is perfectly suited to this narrative about a marriage, delicately exploring "all the sadness, and all of the love."
About the reviewer
Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online, as well as in print and in various anthologies. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020. She tweets @laurabesley