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A Parisian city mouse listens to a garrulous country mouth and transcribes the philosophy he hears.

Cueco is a writer and an artist (take his word for the art; his book is presented sans illustrations). He has a place somewhere in the countryside where the garden is lovingly tended by a wise retired railwayman, seemingly of a certain age. The writer acts as knowing and sensitive interlocutor. His text is a record of the gardener’s yeomanly profundities—all founded on the most quotidian stuff. There are reports of the man’s journey to the rainy seaside and of his bad teeth, of beautiful courgettes, pesky moles and manure. He finds beauty in a cabbage.The gardener—one Frenchman who will not drink wine—subsists, it appears, largely on kippers and soup. For comic effect, on a visit to Paris he brings an anvil. (It’s to sharpen a scythe, he says, to further comic effect). His advice: Always carry a piece of string in your pocket. And a knife. On travel: The Algerian desert is “nothing but sand.” A bit of folk wisdom: “With a hat, you’ve got shade wherever you are.” Theology: “He was a good bloke, that Jesus.” Getting bored yet? There’s more palaver about gravel, a new red scooter and whether socks are comfortable inside the old man’s muddy wellies. (The book, translated from the French, contains British-isms like “buggers,” “gobsmacking,” “knackers.”) The lackadaisical tone is eventually offset a bit with reports of illnesses, a trip to spruce up some gravesites and getting up close and personal with soil. Note, students, there’s some foreshadowing going on. The book finally achieves an elegiac mode to conclude its transcript of banalities that reach for depth without much success.

Largely small talk in a small book produces lighter reading than intended.

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 2006
ISBN: 1-86207-840-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Granta UK/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2006