Less than a week after I published my post on how we relate to fictional characters as if they were real, I was chatting to a farmer out on the moors. He was on his quad bike looking for some motorbikers who’d trespassed on the land that feeds his sheep and cows; I was patrolling on foot enjoying the sunshine and wildlife and hoping the next people I asked to put their dog on a lead would comply. We spoke about the impact of the human footprint (and tyre) on the changing landscape, and he referred to other farmers he knew in tourist hotspots who have to contend with far more visitors. Ever conscious of my limited countryside knowledge, I wanted to tell him that I knew a farmer too. But I didn’t, because the farmer I had in mind lives in a book. So I’m telling you instead. As Norah commented on my cognitive poetics post, finding a suitable channel to sound off about our reading is part of the motivation for writing blogs.
Deep in a valley in the Welsh borders, the Hamer family live and work on Funnon Farm. Life is hard when we first meet them in 1941 and, while things change over the ensuing seventy years, it stays hard, although perhaps in unexpected ways. Idris ploughs the land with a horse while his wife, Etty, gives birth to a son who isn’t his in a house with no inside toilet or electricity. Haunted by the First World War, Idris is a staunch Methodist who believes in the sanctity of the Sabbath to the extent that he balks at digging his sheep out of a snowdrift, despite his compassion for the animals and his lack of fear of hard work. Much younger, and destined to outlive him, Etty plays the piano at Chapel, and is the calm foundation of both house and farm, the one who decides whether to invest in new technology or whether it’s a fad. Then there’s Oliver, the dark-skinned child who grows into a giant of a man, a talented boxer and a keen scholar who nevertheless accepts his destiny as steward of the land. Add in a family feud between Idris and his brother, a touch of romance and rather more of injury, with a dollop of gentle humour (such as when Oliver, now middle-aged, buys his mother a dishwasher to do the laundry because he can’t afford a washing machine) Addlands is a literary family saga crossed with a nature diary. I’m not sure if the peppering of dialect words, and farming procedures I couldn’t quite understand, added to or detracted from my enjoyment of this novel, but enjoy it I did. It’s an elegy to the changing countryside, and the ordinary heroism of those wedded to it, hard-working and hard-playing, and the inevitable losses and gains as time marches on. Thanks to Granta books for my review copy.
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Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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