…………”Treading the sea of a troubled mind” is a lyric in a song called “Landed” by Ben Folds – as well as having the titles in common, that line (and a few others) are good descriptions of what you’ll find between the pages of this novel by Tim Pears.
The troubled mind belongs to Owen Wood, a man slowly but surely unravelling from his family and from his life following a tragic accident. In fact the only thing that Owen isn’t unravelling from is his past, and in particular his memories of his childhood vacations spent with his grandparents in the Welsh hills. It’s a story that leaves you thinking that you are somehow intruding on Owen’s grief, loss and confusion and yet it’s also a very powerful book so that at the same time it demands your attention and perhaps more importantly it demands your emotions. I read it largely on the Tube on the way to and from work – I’m always struck by how often my fellow commuters read over my shoulder, how often I read over theirs (usually when they are at the sports pages in Metro!) and how often I see one passenger engrossed in reading over the shoulder of another. And it was that kind of feeling I had as I read it, like I was looking over Owen’s shoulder, knew I shouldn’t, but couldn’t help myself, so engrossed was I in his story!
It’s a story that, through shifts in time, depicts the tragic and slightly puzzling circumstances of Owen’s accident, a car crash that results in both the loss of his arm and the death of his daughter. It goes further back to Owen’s memories of an idyllic, or maybe slightly romanticised, childhood in rural Wales, a place that almost seems to make Owen come alive, come out of himself, as if only in this rural setting on a sheep farm can Owen make sense of the world and his place within it. The other time shifts go forward and backwards through a series of events in Owen’s life - adolescence, marriage, work, children. What anchors Owen to the world is his love for those he cares about, which doesn’t extend beyond his wife, children, mother and grandparents. In a quiet and understated way he is a real alpha-male – his desire to take care of those he loves is his real reason for being. And in the aftermath of the accident, the loss of his daughter, the impact of his loss of his arm on his sense of himself and his life, his relationships essentially unravel and spiral out of control. His attempts to then reassert that control become the heart of the story.
It’s a novel that’s powerful, sad and beautiful in equal measure. As I said before the subject matter ought to leave you feeling a bit like the “spectre at the feast” and yet it doesn’t. It’s really well written, especially the character of Owen himself. There’s something very appealing in him, in his character flaws, even in his speech patterns! It means that although you can’t easily approve of the things he does you can’t help but understand them and even sympathise with them.
On one level it’s a pretty bleak tale of a man and his family coming apart at the seams. Add to that the fact the fact that Tim Pears also weaves into the book an equally bleak picture of life in Britain, especially among those in poverty or going through hard times, and it should be a bit of a miserable read – but it isn’t. It’s a wonderful read. I thought this was because the bleak personal tale set against that bleak background put Owen’s life into a context that somehow helps the reader make sense of it and perversely it somehow lends the novel an air of hope. It’s not necessarily a hope that all will come right in the end and that they’ll all live “happily ever after”, but more that the book gives you the feel that it’s OK to hope, to look ahead for better times. I won’t spoil the end in case you read it, but I loved it!
I’d never heard of Tim Pears until I read a review of this book, months ago, on Heaven Ali’s Blog. (I get about 33% of my books recommendations from there if I’m honest – and I get 33% from Annabel’s House of Books and the other 33% from Claire’s blog at Word by Word – between them they’ve become like “personal shoppers” for me!). Anyway I searched for this book for a long time but a bit half-heartedly – I always looked on the shelves in bookshops but didn’t force myself to “track it down at all costs”! What a mistake. It’s a great, great book. I’ve already compiled a list of a few other Tim Pears novels – and I won’t be so half-hearted about tracking them down for if they are half as good as “Landed” is, they’ll be well worth the effort.
If you want to have a look at that original review of Landed that sparked it off for me you’ll find it here at Heaven Ali’s blog
There’s one other thing that the Ben Folds song ‘Landed’ and the Tim Pears book ‘Landed’ have got in common – they’re both great! If you don’t know Ben Folds, have a listen. And if you don’t know Tim Pears, have a read – hopefully you’ll find something, in one or the other, or even both, that you’ll like!