Book Review of Landed by Tim Pears
A new novel by British author Tim Pears is always a welcome event, his previous five books (including Blenheim Orchard, which I reviewed here) having been consistently fine novels, portraying English family life in all its variety.
His new novel Landed follows the fortunes of Owen Ithell who as a young boy is sent by his feckless mother to live with his grand-parents on a farm in the Welsh Hills. This story of Owen’s childhood is interleaved with a more recent account from Owen’s life, for as an adult he has a terrible car accident in which his daughter is killed and Owen himself loses an arm.
Owen’s ancient grandfather is a man of few words, a man of the hills, who allows his grandson to follow him around and learn the skills of ferreting, shepherding and butchering, giving him a life-long desire to get back to the land and be self-sufficient.
Tim Pears’ ability to link these past and present narratives together made me think of classic writers like Thomas Hardy and George Eliot who are so adept at showing the rise and fall of characters who seem unable to escape their past and who cannot prevent the past having a determining effect on present actions.
After the accident, Owen tries his hardest to adapt to the loss of his child and his limb, but slowly things begin to fall apart, with joblessness and depression leading to legal separation from his family. On the way we read of the torment of “phantom limb pain” and the problems of prosthetic appliances, none of which quite do the job (Pears has done his research here!).
Pears breaks up this rather bleak text with various documents from Owen’s progress. We see a police accident report describing the scene of the tragedy, complete with photographs. We see a transcript of a paper given to an occupational therapy forum on phantom limb pain, based on Owen’s experience as a patient.
We get to read a lengthy article Owen posts on an Internet fathers’ right forum about the breakdown of his marriage. I quite enjoyed reading these. They break up the text but also fill out the picture of Owen and make readers feel more involved with his character.
The scene is now set for the second half of the book, in which Tim abducts his two younger children, Josh and Holly from school in Birmingham and begins a journey to the hillside in Wales where life was free of all the encumbrances of later life.
Almost as soon as they commence their journey, Owen realises that they are “on the run” and have to travel rough through fields and woods. Oen’s skills of wild-camping and survival somehow keep his little family together, but the reader wonders how all this is working out in modern over-crowded Britain.
It is at this point that the clues being to emerge to suggest that things are not quite what they seems. The people they meet are not quite right somehow, questions arise about the reality of the experiences the travellers go through – is the journey mythical in some way, is it really happening? It is at this point that the book reviewer wants to say more, but then the risk of spoiling the book for other people begins to limit what can be said.
Let me say that the book makes perfect sense when taken as a whole. The knowledge you get at the end is revelatory, but should not perhaps have been totally unexpected. It even makes the whole book come together and for this reader at least made him feel that this had been a very satisfying read.
This is a book which will linger in the memory, and if ever there was a book for book groups, then this is it – the possibilities for discussion are limitless, bringing in themes of childhood influences on adulthood, coping with loss, myth and reality, guilt and innocence and many more. A book to read and re-read I think.
The editor of The Readers Loft, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.