I thought this was a wonderful book - totally spellbinding and captivating.
It is a long while since I gave five stars to any book but this certainly deserves it.
The journey from belfast to Sunderland is done in the grip of winter with snow all around and the strange mesmeric effect this can have as you are cocooned in a vehice is so well conveyed and the language is sparse and never over the top. The angst of the driver is transmitted early though the reasons for this only become apparent by degrees as we learn more of his family and their back story. it is all very subtle and restrained and the reader is treated with the intelligence.
incidentally sice the route of the journey passes through my home area, I was also impressed by the accuracy of the incidental geogaphic details he included and the scenes including the Angel of the north were especially evocative of this landmark.
at the end of the book there are also links to the music used as a soundtrack on the journey and to commissioned bphotographs neither of whicI have yet explored but will do soon when ihave had time to digest the full and substantial impact of the book.
Travelling in a Strange Land is another masterpiece from David Park.
Tom is a photographer. Often commissioned for weddings and portraits, he has a good eye for composition. He is a man of taste and discernment, appreciating his surroundings and those around him. He knows he is being superseded by the ubiquity of the selfie, shared on social media in an instant, forgotten in a moment – but he still believes he offers a quality product. He is a comfortable man with a comfortable life in North Down (my guess is Holywood).
Shortly before Christmas, his son Luke is stranded in his university digs in Sunderland, snow has closed the airport and Luke has a terrible cold. Tom is sent out on a rescue mission to bring Luke home for Christmas. The plan is to get the first ferry to Stranraer, drive to Sunderland and back in time for the last sailing home. God and snow willing…
The novel is Tom, alone in a car, lost in his own thoughts as he travels across a strange land. Self-satisfaction starts to fray a little at the edges, and ultimately Tom’s thoughts are overtaken by his older son, Daniel, who is no longer part of the happy family. Daniel was a difficult child who became a difficult adult. Tom skates a fine line between guilt at his failure to love Daniel completely and resentment of Daniel for not being easy to love. All this crowding out the feelings he ought to have been having for Luke. There are occasional interruptions to phone home, the occasional interjection of the satnav, and a stop or two along the way. But mostly the strange land through which Tom is travelling is his own mind rather than the Scottish borders.
The journey takes us back in time to a Northern Ireland long gone: paramilitaries and territoriality. There is a journey too through different social classes; Tom steps away from leafy North Down to explore the Belfast drinking dens and squalid bedsits of the Holy Lands. And then there is the journey through generations; from youth to fatherhood, back into the world of the young as he tries to find reconciliation with Daniel. As we get to know Tom’s story, we start to see him as more than the slightly pompous photographer. He is a man struggling to understand familial love and to accept human failings. It is not that Tom is perfect; he knows he isn’t and knows that neither he nor anyone else ever can be. It is that Tom cannot accept his own imperfection.
There are some beautiful set pieces, sometimes inspiring, sometimes harrowing. The imagery is undemonstrative but precise. David Park needs few words to convey really complex ideas – not least the bonding near the end with the Angel of the North. Park trusts his readers to fill in the blanks, to make associations, and gives his readers the time and space to let their own imaginations wander. Park is a generous writer who lets the inherent goodness of the human spirit shine through in his characters, even when they go to dark places.
David Park is one of the finest writers; pretty much every one of his works could match anything from Ian McEwan or Kazuo Ishiguro. Yes, he really is that good. I hope that one day he will get the recognition he so richly deserves.
Having read reviews comparing David Parks to Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and J. M. Coetzee I had very high hopes for #TravellingInAStrangeLand. But within a dozen or so pages I was already feeling the comparison should be working the other way around. This isn’t to take anything away from these other esteemed writers - all of whom I love - but simply that I can’t think of anything they’ve written which has touched me in quite the same way.
In many ways, the book it reminded most of was the sorrowful pleasure of reading Flaubert’s Parrot. That sense of being completely inside someone else’s head - of seeing the world through their eyes and the preoccupations of their inner landscapes and yet. In this case, the things these eyes see are endlessly interesting because they are a photographer.
The story is simple. It’s a few days before Christmas and the airports and trains have been brought to a standstill. Despite the best efforts of the Met Office and police to urge people not to attempt travel, a father sets off from Belfast to collect his son from his university digs in Sunderland. Although, technically, he is a son/husband/father traveling on his own, he is never alone.
The prose is exceptional, the cadences and accumulation of perfect details are an endless joy to read; everything is tightly controlled, yet there’s no escaping the feeling the fuse to an emotional time-bomb has been lit somewhere just out of your line of sight. But more than any of this, it’s the candor with which this son/husband/father is laid bare which flayed my heart.
It’s a testament to fatherly love, and it was impossible to read without thinking of my own father, and how impressed he had been with Truth Commissioner. I miss him all the time anyway, but all the more so today while holding a book I know he would have reveled in. So, it’s five stars from me and five from my dad, who sadly didn’t live long enough to be floored by Travelling in a Strange Land.
I’m not really sure what else I can say to do this justice. Surely this will be on every major prize list going in 2018? It’s only April, but I’m now itching to cast my Book of the Year vote.
I am exceedingly grateful to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me see an advance readers’ copy of Travelling in a Strange Land.
This tale had me hooked from the beginning and it got better and better. The sense of travel, both in real time and spac3 as well as through all of the emotions around the loss of a son, was masterfully created, beautiful but terrifying.