In a finely observed if uneven elegy to loss, British writer Pears (In a Land of Plenty, 1998, etc.) tracks the lonely youth and tragic adulthood of a quiet man.
Lyrical and melancholic, the author’s latest novel moves at a curious pace, expansive in its vignettes of Owen Ithell’s deeply satisfying teenage years helping his grandfather on a Welsh hill farm and later on a sad pilgrimage back to those same hills, but telescopically truncated in between. Via an investigation report, a case study and other perspectives, Pears stitches together the central facts of Owen’s life: his happy marriage; contented work as a self-employed landscaper; the arrival of his children; and then the traffic accident in which his oldest child is killed and Owen loses his right hand. His settled life in pieces, his new existence is shaped by alcoholism, unemployment, separation and court orders barring him from his children. Driven by desperation, Owen eventually embarks with his son and daughter on a journey back to the Welsh farm that formed him, an odyssey across the British landscape which Pears charts with obsessive detail and occasional glimpses of the surreal. Rhapsodic in its rural devotion and deftly empathetic in its portrait of Owen, dammed up inside himself, the novel mixes affecting, compassionate moments with sketchiness.
Lovingly crafted but—like its central character—introverted.