on 13 May 2014
A beautifully crafted and produced book, ‘Water and Sky’ is an exquisite evocation of a largely rural but nevertheless distinctively human place, a farming community and market town in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It is peopled by the author’s own near ancestors - characters shaped by the land, by war, and the exigencies of the changing habitus of rural England. And, of course, by a certain waterway.
Despite the deep affinity to people and place, Sentance is not dreamy about the past, nor his family’s. In a series of short ‘essays’ (there is not a good genre word for what Sentance is up to ....) we encounter their toils, their schemes and japes, alongside their tragedies, and it is fond, respectful, amused, but not nostalgic or judgemental. The book is infused with the author’s liminal sensibility, perched stylistically and thematically on the thresholds of town and country, childhood and adulthood, self and other, poetry and prose.... water and sky. He is of this place and these people, but he is not, ultimately, one who stays.
The quality of writing, the choices of both language and tone, are - to borrow from Robert McFarlane’s puff on the dust jacket – marvellous. The farmer’s rough hands “emeried by the clayey earth he’d shovel day and night”; a boy (the author’s father) on his bike, “freedom transmitted with every derailleur gearshift”. One could choose from so many examples.
More than memoir, the people and places in ‘Water and Sky’ are fully four dimensional, a quality the thematic but anachronistic ordering of the essays accentuates. We move among and between them. As you close the book, you may think you can see them all gathered, vast menagerie in tow, at Foston Ford - the “last stayers”. And so you can.
To stay a while in their’s, and Sentance’s company, is a rare and fine thing.
on 9 May 2014
A beautifully written, beautifully presented, journey back in time that's both deeply personal and universal and which avoids the trap of sentimentality. It's short (too short!) and I gulped it down in one sitting, but such is the clarity and brilliance of the prose that I've been back to savour it again and again, sipping at it like a fine wine. Highly recommended.