Top positive review
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A gripping blend of reality and myth
on 18 March 2010
A new novel by British author Tim Pears is always a welcome event. 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.
We read of Owen's youth with his ancient grandfather, 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.
After the accident, and back in his adult life, 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. I won't go beyond the content of the cover description and risk spoiling the story for others. I think I can safely say however, that it is at this point that the clues being to emerge to suggest that things are not quite what they seem.
Let me just 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 and a fine addition to my Tim Pears collection.