Buried? What the Ground Can’t Hold

Do you like neat resolutions? Tidy conclusions? Questions answered? If the answer is yes, maybe look away now…

But if, like me, you don’t mind a little open-endedness, a bit of mystery in your reading, then you’re going to love Shady Cosgrove’s What the Ground Can’t Hold (Picador).

what the ground can't holdWhen I first started this book I figured that the title could be taken both literally and metaphorically…

Two Americans are presumed dead and nine people are trapped in a cabin after an avalanche in the remote Andes… Among them is Emma, an Australian faced with an impossible decision that could see her parents jailed. Jack, a teenager obsessed with Jack Kerouac, guided by a skewed moral compass. Carmen, a tango dancer whose estranged father is dying of cancer. Pedro, the cabin manager who’s in hiding from those he loves most. And Wolfe, an American on a deadly family quest.

With food supplies dwindling, these unlikely companions are forced to extremes and discover they are bound by more than their surroundings – each has a secret that links them to Argentina’s Dirty War. ‘What the Ground Can’t Hold’ is a gripping exploration of the ways the past closes in on the present, and destroys the foundations upon which we build our lives.

The ground can’t hold you steady, the snow can bury – but does what is once buried, stay buried?

One thing’s for certain, what the ground can’t hold is secrets.

This story is full of skeletons in closets, guilt, loss and emotional baggage heavy enough to bury its carrier. Without exception, this cast of characters carry secrets with them that threaten to crush them. Through five narratives; Emma Woods, Hans ‘Jack’ Meyers, Carmen Conzalez, Pedro Cariman and Wolfe Goldberg, this novel deals with a series of heartaches as each character deals with the sins of the fathers’ and faces the truth of what these sins should mean to them now.

This deeply personal soul-searching is set against the claustrophobic backdrop of a very real, physical predicament. They sit together, trapped in the Andes and sheltered in Pedro’s refugio (cabin). The weather is unseasonal, the snow precarious. An avalanche has buried two of their party and more slides threaten to come down on them should they make one false move.

They are faced with a choice – stay and starve or walk out against soft snow and unstable ground. The comparison between their emotional and physical situation is pretty clear, and works well.

What the Ground Can’t Hold is a cleverly constructed story. It’s full of false leads, many of which are not revealed fully until the very final moments of this gripping novel. The characterisations are complex and as with all really interesting novels, it is difficult to decide whether to like each character or not. They are inherently fallible, haunted and sensitive humans. I’m sure that each reader will be endeared to different characters for different reasons.

I also think that this story will leave readers wondering about different aspects of history. I was fascinated as I knew little about Argentina before reading the book. I’m going to have to do some research – about the Dirty War, the fall of the Peso, the Andes – just to satisfy my new curiosity.

I’ll admit, I almost threw this book across the room as I reached its final page. I don’t mind the odd loose end, but even I was surprised by how much I still needed to know at the end of the book. Many ghosts haunted Emma, Carmel, Wolfe, Pedro and Jack and I’ve been left to imagine how they might be exorcised.

This of course, in and of itself, is very skilful storytelling. In my opinion Cosgrove’s novel is well worth reading, I’d recommend it highly.

If you’d like to find out more about Shady Cosgrove’s What the Ground Can’t Hold, visit here…