Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at basic human level, 25 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Ulverton (Paperback)
I have just finished rereading Ulverton. The first reading was about ten years ago, and several of the episodes, and several sharp images, had stuck in my mind since then, although, interestingly, several of them I had forgotten completely.

This is not a collection of short stories : to say that gives a completely wrong impression of this book. It is a generic whole, riveted together by people from the same families living through 3 centuries, 1650 - 1988 in the same location, the village of Ulverton. Thus names and places traverse the years with the differences you would expect - one of the elms of 5 Elms Farm falls, a wooden gate and a solid wooden table outlive their makers by far.

However, initially, people knew who made these artefacts and tell each other from generation to generation, albeit with small slips creeping in; also, originally, people knew the real stories transforming them little by little into country lore. Towards the end, I suppose inevitably, the new (horrible?) people in the last chapters, despite roots in the village, throw out the same artefacts, burning and destroying them, to make way for the new age.

This 'progress' leads not forwards but to ruin.

Some of the chapters are unbearably moving; Adam Thorpe's skill is to let them stand without pathos, drama or sentiment. Life was harder in the past but the Ulvertonians just got on with it. From the point of view of the writing, the book is an extraordinary tour de force of both research and imagination. Thorpe's command of the language is nothing short of astonishing. Each chapter has its own voice appropriate to the social station of the character and in their own ways, the rich people's lives were just as hard as the poor people's. Two of chapters (Ch 5 "Dissection" 1775 and Ch 9 "Stitches" 1887) I needed to read again and again to get to grips with the language. I disagree with another reviewer who appears to have skipped at least Chapter 9 - without it a whole block of folk memory is missing. This reader needed to persevere!

I love the way characters appear in successive stories either in person (50 years on) or in older folks' memory. So although as the reader you have to learn the voices of each new chapter's characters, the thread of connection is always there for you to find, appreciate and feel at home with.

To finish, I will read this book again in about ten years and experience once more the detective thrill of ferreting out ordinary people's lives ---- the true making of history.

BRAVO - a quite outstanding literary achievement.
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