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nowhere man "nowhere land" (UK)

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Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness
Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness
by Michael Symmons Roberts
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Google-Edge, 27 Aug. 2011
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Basically, there is the world as it is, and the world as we re-imagine it. Symonds-Roberts and Farley's version of the edge-lands gives us a fair amount of the latter - and some fairly whimsical re-imagining at that. This book is certainly a Parson's Edge. There are many reasons to feel wary, and you encounter them pretty much from the offing.

CONTRADICTIONS: and there are many. For example, in the first chapter the co-authors tell us that the edge-lands are `constantly shifting sands'. On the very next page they announce that the book `is not a book of walks, rambles, derives or flaneurisms' because `both of us already knew this landscape well'. It seems shifting sands stand still for Farley and Symonds-Roberts.

MISS-READINGS: The author's assert the value of their project (or product) through some rather simplistic readings of `new nature writers' like MacFarlane and Deakin, and so-called psycho-geographers like Sinclair. They don't name names, but if you know a little about their books (and not too much to know better), you can guess who they mean. `[The edge-lands] are written off as parts of the urban (or suburban) human landscape that has to be escaped, or transcended, in order to discover true solitude in the wilds of Scotland...' MacFarlane's Wild Places - whatever its faults - is far less neat. MacFarlane identifies this slant in his thinking, and re-addresses it less than half way through the book. `Wildness' is re-evaluated and eventually re-discovered far closer to home.

The psycho-geographers are accused of using the edge-lands as a `merely a backdrop for bleak observations on the mess we humans have made of our lives, landscapes, politics and each other.' A great deal is suspect about this statement, but it is the use of that `we humans' that bothers me most. If Sinclair, for example, displays what Farley and Symonds-Roberts call `misanthropic tendencies', then they are the tendencies of the lapsed Romantic. The mess is attributed to the greedy, the corrupt and the short-sighted, not to ordinary humanity. Besides, Sinclair seems to undertake many of his explorations in the company of (and in dialogue with) other human beings: artists, dreamers, and activists. This is a funny kind of misanthropy.

WHIMSICALITY: If only Farley and Symonds-Roberts were a little more bleak themselves - then their project might feel more authentic. The accumulative effect of reading this book is to have most sense of conflict, danger, friction and - yes - EDGE - extracted from the edge-lands. This is replaced by blandly inoffensive imaginative play. A chapter titled `Cars' for example, has nothing to say about road-kill, and more to say about sat-nav. Some of this is interesting, but I can imagine the authors constructing it over a glass of something nice and from the comfort of their own search-engines. When the authors head into a sentence which begins `let us imagine', we are about to receive something more whimsical than either writer would let into a poem of their own.

MAINSTREAMING: This book has been hyped, blurbed, and almost aggressively promoted. Now it is totting up awards that seem to have been especially constructed for it alone. The industry really wants us to buy this book. When the word `edge-lands' is used, we will think first of Farley and Symonds-Roberts, which is ironic, as the authors make the rather odd claim to be writing in `the anonymous tradition'. The authors use the phrase `edge-lands' in every other paragraph, and it is hard work to keep the hypnotic effect at bay. I will try. `Edgelands' has far from won me over. If anything, I will return to the authors it wilfully misreads with renewed enthusiasm.
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