Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

"Black Dirt" by Nell Leyshon (Picador, 2004)

Frank is back home from hospital, bedridden. His children, (Margaret - married but childless - and George - who's in his fifties, simple-minded) are looking after him. He self-administers morphine, remembers stories his father told him, stories he's told his children. But there's a story involving "Iris" that he doesn't want to reveal. He mentions the name in his sleep. Perhaps his decision to have no more morphine is because he doesn't want to risk saying more - perhaps that Iris was his mentally unstable sister with whom he had a child.

The interleaved stories are partly Frank's memories and partly Arthurian/Glastonbury myths, some of whose details (feathers and oatcakes, for example) interact. The stories aimed at the children have talking animals and sometimes drag. And the dialogue between Crumwell and the Abbot of Glastonbury pales beside comparable dialogue in "Wolf Hall". The book has about 180 pages, and there are long sections of dialogue. The dialogue between the children, and the children's behaviour, sound authentic.

Here's paragraph 3 - "Margaret turned the curled handle of the window and tried to open it to let a bit of air in, but the wood had swollen from the rain." It could have been "Turning the window's curved handle, she tried to let in some air, but rain had swollen the wood". I'm not saying it's better, but it's 18 words against 28. Elsewhere she's not verbose. There are flashes of lyricism -

The man and the boy watch the swans, watch the white of them.
The drips of water and the fading rhythm of the wings.
Water and the boat. Nothing else.
That is all there is.

I wondered whether Iris or her offspring would turn up later - maybe just too late. I wondered whether Margaret was Iris's daughter.

p.99 has a typo "addded"

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