If I touched the Earth is Cynthia Rogerson’s fifth novel. The Canadian born author has lived in the UK for more than 30 years and boasts an impressive literary reputation as winner of the V.S. Pritchett Prize in 2008. Further boosting her popularity is the fact that, as a Scottish Book Trust Live Author, she regularly appears at festivals across the UK to give readings. Moved by the grief of a family member, Rogerson’s latest work constitutes a heart-wrenchingly honest portrayal of human emotion.
Split into six parts spanning January 1996 to February 1999, If I Touched the Earth follows one mother, Alison, in her struggle to cope with life after the death of her twenty-five year old son, Calum. The novel consists of short, journal-like chapters that explore the way in which the lives of different characters have been affected, whether personally or distantly, by the tragic car crash which resulted in the death of Calum. Written in the third person, Rogerson’s narrative masterfully conveys the conflicting emotions of bereavement through the perspectives of her characters in each chapter. The shifting points of view allow the reader to empathise with the trials and tribulations of each and every character; in finishing the book the reader will embrace the human nature that Rogerson so honestly portrays, thus creating a cathartic experience.
One unique aspect of the text is the way in which emotion is portrayed as something unexpected, uncontrollable and atmospheric. Rogerson creates the idea that, as the result of a tragic or joyous event, feelings can affect you no matter where you may be or who you may be; these consequences are also true for the individuals that have the most tenuous of connections to the event in question. For example, in the opening chapter, after the fatal crash which results in Calum’s death, the reader is told of “a sudden change in the atmosphere of the material world”. So it is that “a middle-aged woman who is shopping in the Spar, who has never met Calum and now never will, suddenly sighs and slumps inside”. These unexplained emotive occurrences happen throughout the novel; they make the reader feel more receptive, because the trauma of grief is not merely confined to those who knew Calum, but also seems to extend and affect those who have little connection to the family other than being within a certain radius of a particular strip of the A9.
At one point while reading the text one could imagine the plot to dissipate and thus leave the reader in disgruntled anticipation of some artistically pointless postmodern ending. However, at the last minute, when the reader, much like the protagonist, feels as if they cannot take any more melancholy, Rogerson turns the whole novel around with the unexpected birth of a child to Alison. Despite the overly sweet and clichéd name “Solas”, the child symbolises the notion that whilst life after the death of a loved one is difficult, it does in the end presage a new life that must be embraced and appreciated for what it is, not only for those who remain but also, for those who do not. Thus, Rogerson concludes If I touched the Earth in the emotional atmosphere with which she started it. However, she replaces the opening melancholic tone with optimism, leaving the reader with a more refreshing outlook on life.