This is a novel of paradoxes. The writing is, at times, quaint but always edgy, pastoral yet menacing, short but will take time to read. The language and plot are simple, yet the story is sophisticated, ambiguous, and full of unknowns. Descriptions are detailed and realistic while also always on the edge of being surreal. It’s as if this book is a peaceful lake, beautiful and breathtaking, with frightful monsters lurking just under the surface of the water.
Set in a time when agriculture is giving away to other industries, this is the story of Walter Thirsk, an outsider in a peaceful, rural English village that becomes transformed over the course of a week.
My favorite part of the book was the vivid, poetic language. The descriptions are narcotic, as if I was reading a realistic version of a drug-induced vision. I’m not saying that the prose itself is dream-like. On the contrary, the narrative is dense with grounded details. Rather, it’s as if the descriptions are a product of a hyper-realistic, paranoid, visionary trip. I was never sure what would happen next nor what to truly believe.
This is a Great Book and should be read far and wide. This will withstand multiple readings. However, this book is demanding and will ask more of the reader than most current fiction.
One of my book clubs tackled this book, and the discussion was intense and illuminating. Many people did not like the book because it lacks any empathy, especially for the main character, nor does the book have a packaged ending, issues that can turn off a lot of readers. But the book provided plenty of depth for a good discussion, a sign of a worthwhile read.
My example quote from the book comes from page 45 when Walter is walking around the village at night: “But other gentler odors too. The acrid smell-exaggerated by the rain-of elder trees. The bread-and-biscuit smell of rotting wood. The piss-and-honey tang of apple trees. I navigate my midnight village as a blind man would, by nose and ears and touch and by the vaguest, blackest forms.”
I have trouble recommending this to casual readers—this is not a beach read. I do recommend this wholeheartedly to serious book clubs. Not everyone will like the book, but everyone will like the discussion. I also strongly recommend it to any readers who want a substantial novel that challenges them.
You can find my discussion questions here.