RISING GROUND by Philip Marsden


A Search for the Spirit of Place
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A native of Cornwall, England, returns with an account of a walk southwestward across the region to Land’s End.

A genial companion throughout, Marsden (The Levelling Sea: The Story of a Cornish Haven in the Age of Sail, 2011, etc.) focuses each section on a specific place and blends together stories about his travels there (in all kinds of weather) with summaries of encounters with locals, inns where he stayed (when he’s not camping), speculations about the ancient remains he visited, and information about notables of various sorts—artists, historians, writers—who worked in the area. A few of those names will be familiar to most (Dickens, Tennyson) but others, only to students of the region. Among the latter—Jack Clemo, who wrote about a chapel; Charles Henderson, who as a child began his researches into Cornish churches; and Peter Lanyon, whose paintings Marsden admires. The author offers only a little about his family life, but he does go into considerable detail about the remote farmhouse he and his wife purchased and restored. He focuses almost entirely on his walk and leaves readers to imagine what his wife and children are up to. Marsden also alludes occasionally to his travels elsewhere, including Armenia, the subject of an earlier work, The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians (1993). Throughout his journey, the questions he asks are clear: What am I seeing? What used to be here? What does it mean? Sometimes, the author is content, as with stone circles, to shrug: “The truth about circles is that you can make of them what you will.” Each chapter/section is fairly brief, and Marsden sometimes overreaches for an effective or evocative concluding sentence—but not often.

The writer/traveler blends so thoroughly with the landscape that it’s sometimes affectingly uncertain which is speaking.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-226-36609-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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