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.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

"Addlands" by Tom Bullough (Granta, 2016)

It begins in 1941. Subsequent section are at roughly 5 year intervals, ending in 2011. I like the 1947 section the most (saving sheep from snow) and the 1976 section where Naomi appears, introducing a clash of cultures. Each winter takes its toll. The book's immersive, rural, the main character (who takes a pet crow around with him) hardly leaving his land, though his son (the offspring of a brief relationship with a woman who becomes a poet) travels the world before returning. Feuds last for decades, complicated by paternity doubts. Animal sounds are always ready to be interpreted. The occasional word of dialect didn't trouble me. The period detail sounded convincing -

  • "Oliver put his hot-water bottle on the draining board for his mother to empty for the washing" (p.20)
  • "put a brun on the fire and warm yourself up. Fodder the geese, if you're after a job" (p.22)
  • "He slipped the clips round the ankles of his uniform trousers then lifted his bicycle from the wall of the toilet block, flipping the dynamo onto the back wheel" (p.72)
  • "It was normally the geese that heralded a visitor: the geese then the dogs, which refined their cries with calls of greeting or warning" (p.75)
  • "The harrier was falling over Llanbedr Hill, vanishing behind the horizon to rise again in a tumult of silver, as if bouncing on a hidden trampoline" (p.97)
  • "The oak in the Oak Piece bore leaves in such numbers that it was only when Oliver climbed the gate into the Funnon Field and passed into its shadow that he could see against the high, hot sun some memory of its whorling skeleton ... A vapour trail passed straight through its crown, like an arrow through a cowboy's hat" (p.143)
  • "They did not speak. There was nothing to say. They moved around each other here like they always moved, like those spangled dancers he would see sometimes on the telly in the Awlman's Arms - certain of their purpose, their place in the space, following the music of the year" (p.182)

I liked it. The portrait of Oliver followed no tidy template, and the symbolism wasn't too heavy-handed.

Other reviews

  • Jem Poster (Guardian) (Bullough’s quiet insistence on the link between language and landscape crucially shapes the novel.)
  • Melissa Harrison (Financial Times) (a quiet rural novel of enormous power ... mentioning things only as they are observed by the book’s characters, to whom most things are deeply familiar and so require little description or comment. The penalty for this style is a slight loss of clarity and significance; at times it isn’t clear what has happened, where, or to whom. I found myself reading and rereading certain sections, trying to sift clues from otherwise oblique references to events)
  • Stuart Kelly (Spectator) (The novel has an elegant structural conceit. ... There are a few infelicities. Is it necessary that almost every female character, however fleeting, must have their breasts described? One character goes on to become a ‘post-pastoral’ poet, which seems more like a jibe than essential to the story. Nevertheless, at its heights the prose glimmers and shimmers. )
  • Kirkus Reviews (Bullough’s consistent use of Welsh dialect is at once colorful and something of a stumbling block ... (Bullough’s website has a glossary.) And the overall fecundity of the prose—Bullough delivers plenty of longueurs about the landscape—can swallow up his characters’ tensions)
  • David Hebblethwaite (Above all, though, what strikes me about Addlands is how the progression of the novel is oriented around the place rather than the characters)

No comments:

Post a Comment