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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snapshots of a walk, 10 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Walking Home (Kindle Edition)
This is a book which it it difficult to classify. At a very basic level, poet Simon Armitage decides to walk the Pennine Way from north to south, and to finance his trip from donations made at poetry recitals he gives on the way. The book is an account of his journey. So, is it a travelogue? Well, not really. If you wish to learn about what it is like to walk the Pennine Way, Walking Home gives a peculiarly foreshortened version. It reads like a selection of vignettes from short day walks. The snippets he gives from each day, make the walks seem much shorter than the 16 odd miles he is actually covering. That said, however, he brilliantly summarises the overall feel of walking a long distance path."My habitat has become the journey itself and my new habitat is to walk. That is what I do now. I lace up my boots and head into the hills, then do the same the next day, and the next day, and the day after that."

In the introduction, Armitage says that he wanted to write a book about the north, one that could observe the land and its people and one that could encompass elements of memoir, as well as saying something about (his) life as a poet. Well, yes, he does that, but again, only in the same way as this is a travelogue. This is not a detailed portrait of the north and its people, it is more a series of pen portraits of individual people he meets on his journey. One absolutely fabulously touching such picture is that of a father and son walking the Pennine Way together. As a memoir too, it is sparse and intermittent. Even of the life of a poet, one learns very little, other than a small feeling of what it is like to read out poems after walking all day.

And yet, I did enjoy the book, and the reason I did, the main pleasure for me, was the beauty in his prose. The description of the father and son is beautifully sensitive. There are frequent descriptions which catch the breath, for example, an allusion to the "afterburners" of a redstart's tail. His observations of the people he meets are delightful. I loved his writing about a guest room as being a reliquary, containing objects whose significance to family life borders on the sacred. It might be said that his writing style clearly shows his profession, but strangely, on the evidence of the examples included in this book, I found his poetry less approachable than his prose.

Finally, I have to say that I found the end dissatisfying. Without giving anything away, one could sympathise with him, recognise his true goal in the book's title or applaud him, but it also felt a bit like not being trendy enough for a liberal arts academic to finish in the expected way, just as it wouldn't be cool to use expensively acquired navigational aids properly.

So, whatever expectations you have of this book, travelogue, memoir, social portrait, picture of the life of a poet, it fulfils them, but only in a fragmentary, passport photo sort of way.

Walking Home is worth your time to read, but the main pleasure is in the writing itself rather than the subject.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Feb 2013 19:21:23 GMT
'This is a book which it it difficult to classify.' Just a suggestion, but maybe spend more time editing your ponderous reviews and do a few less? What do you think?
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