Review: In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton (2020) @CathBarton1 @LouiseWalters12 @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours #InTheSweepOfTheBay

In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton


This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

“A tender and moving study of a marriage” Alison Moore, author of the Booker short listed
The Lighthouse


I have been really looking forward to reading this novella, having heard wonderful things about it. Thank you so much to Emma at Damp Pebbles, Louise Walters Books and to the author for having me on the blog tour and providing a digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t think I have actually read all that many novellas, and certainly not recently, so I was very excited to read this one. The first thing to say is that Cath Barton has chosen her form perfectly. The narrow, specific location works extremely well in a book of this length, and the sweep of years it covers are given more space to breathe than they would be in a short story. Time is extremely well-handled in this book – it feels neither rushed nor too slow, rather an expertly judged dipping in and out of the lives of the characters, which just so precisely matches the beautiful cover image – the very structure of the story really did conjure up a feeling of swooping gulls dipping their beaks into an ocean, skimming and tasting, giving us glimpses of lives that feel full and realistically drawn.

The framing device of the narrator worked really well for me, and I grew very fond of the characters very quickly. Ted and Rene’s story is resonant with simple, quiet dignity and sadness. This is an elegant story, evoking an old-fashioned and yet timeless quality. It reminded me of Clare Chambers’ book Small Pleasures, which I read earlier this year – a careful, detailed rendering of the small, important things in life. The links between the characters are satisfying and add to the sense of completeness and roundness.

Cath Barton’s writing is wonderful. Parts of the book, particularly the natural descriptions, are lyrical and poetic, creating a soothing rhythm that washes over you. The dialogue feels real, and the little details added to descriptions are finely judged, never overdone. There is a quiet confidence bubbling beneath the surface of this gentle book, and also a delicious sense of humour that peeks through the poignancy. It is a delight to read, and I reached the end with regret, but nevertheless pleasantly sated by the experience of reading this story.

All in all, this is a perfectly formed novella. It is gentle yet poignant, expertly crafted and delicately gilded with the aches of love and disappointment. It feels true and beautiful, and I was deeply moved by it. I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more by Cath Barton in the future.

About the Author

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella. 

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