The White Rock by Anna Hope is an epic journey bringing us backwards and forwards in time through four different story lines, unfolding decades and centuries apart, loosely bound together by the powerful Mexican landscape within which they take place, and by the echoes that run through them. The Writer (2020), the Singer (1969), the Girl (1907) and the Lieutenant (1775) each find themselves on revelatory journeys where the presence of the titular sacred rock looms large, holding different, life-altering promise for each of them.
I loved this book. The storylines were at times slow moving but this meant that fast-paced plot gave way to atmospheric and charged world-building and character development that was pulsing with life, all relayed in rich and vibrant prose. The writer – a woman travelling with her husband and young daughter along an old pilgrimage route – is deep in reflection about the challenges of parenthood and her faltering marriage, the climate crisis, and the exploitation and persecution of indigenous communities; as she thinks back over how she got here under the blistering Mexican sun, she worries about what comes next. The singer – inspired by Jim Morrison of The Doors – has run away from the law and his band, disillusioned with what he and they have become, and is on a whirlwind, self-destructive path in search of some kind of personal liberation. The girl’s story – a girl from the persecuted indigenous Yoeme community – is laced with the traditions, stories and struggles of the people and their land, as she finds herself seized and shipped away, facing an uncertain but threatening future. The Lieutenant’s story – a young Spanish naval officer preparing to set forth on a mission of conquest – is a story which explores the morals of man, showing those who follow the rules in unthinking compliance, in search of recognition and power despite knowing what they do is wrong, versus those who throw themselves in the face of adversity, blurring the lines between sanity and clarity, in search of the right path. The landscape, just like the rock, almost becomes a character in its own right, so vividly and sensorially brought to life. The novel is permeated by a sense of stories within stories, but also the myths and ancient beliefs coursing through the landscape, drawing people towards the rock.
The novel starts in 2020, drawing us back in time to 1775, before rebounding back through each story towards the present. The stories and characters are so different, and I’ve seen reviews that the book lacks cohesion because of this. Personally, I loved the scope and sense of expansiveness that this created, illuminating the rich sense of a thread running through history, reinforced by the scattered echoes loosely binding the stories. I found each storyline compelling in its own way, and was captivated by the sweeping sense of vitality and urgency present in each of them, but in very different ways. These are stories that are full of grief, violence, and threat, but also moments of hope, resilience and realisation, exploring themes from the climate crisis and colonialism, to conformity, morality, the power of ritual and the symbolism of sacrifice.
An author’s note closes the book, providing insight into the author’s personal connection to this book, the amount of research that went into it, and the historical and societal facts that the stories are based on; also providing sources for further reading, in particular on the Wixárika people, for whom the White Rock is sacred, and the Yoeme people, both communities who are still fighting for their rights to their ancestral lands. This reinforces the richness of the book, and anchors it firmly within the aspects of history that inspired it. I loved this; it packs a lot in, and I would re-read it again soon, to better catch all the echoes that run throughout.
The White Rock was published by Fig Tree in 2022.
Anna Hope is the internationally prizewinning and bestselling author of Wake, The Ballroom and Expectation. Anna is also co-founder of Letters to Earth, a campaign responding to the climate and ecological emergency. She lives in Sussex with her family.