There, that’s the criticism out of the way, now let’s get down to details.
It arrived as one of many I’d laid in for the quiet days as work was put down and Christmas waited for New Year. I didn’t pick it up to read first or even third though. Attracted as I had been to the glorious cover I worried a little about ‘dreamily poetic’ in one of the review quotes and also had a sense I was going to find bleakness within its pages. After a difficult year I wasn’t immediately ready for bleak.
However, some peacefully fulfilling days working with Sarah on her allotment, along with the abiding pull of the gorgeous cover and the book’s title got me started as January came in. So I entered the book.
“I cast no shadow. Smoke rests behind me and daylight is stifled. I count sleepers and the numbers rush. I count rivets and bolts. I walk north.
The remains of Elmet lie beneath my feet.”
I’m not going to explain the plot, the characters or the landscape here. That’s the book’s job and I couldn’t do it better. It does contain poetry and bleakness, but there is also an idyll in here and a story as strong as you like. The author wrote it where she could, when she had to, making it up on the move, on her commute, on the phone. No words are wasted and some of them are love, fighting and blood. At one point, and not far in, the words run out. It’s Christmas Eve out in the wood:
“We stayed out there for half an hour or so watching the lanterns, playing with sparklers, smoking and chatting, breathing in the cool woodland air. When we walked back to the house we did so in silence, having already got out all our words for the day. I was especially snug in my bed that night. The blankets were warm and close in contrast with the biting open outside. I pulled them up to my nose and went to sleep with that warmth and the scent of worn linen in my nostrils.”
The idyll doesn’t last, that being what makes it an idyll. The cold comes inside and the cold is poverty, the cold is exploitation. Not cosy historical poor-house where we all know better now, but the right here poverty of waiting before dawn for the pick up that takes you to work for the thieves who’ve stolen the land and the Right to Buy council house that used to be home, so you’ll slave for them for next to nothing, just to live. That poverty.
When it ends there is, well that would be telling and I’m not going to. If you’re still reading I hope you’ll go and read this book. It’s as good as anything I’ve ever read and its cover’s as beautiful as any I’ve ever held. A credit to everyone who worked on it.I loved everything about this book.