Weymouth Sands, by John Cowper Powys is a big book in every sense. Set in 1934, it’s a properly interconnected, multi-POV rambling around the town of Weymouth, in Dorset, and discusses the big issues of life, love, death, sexuality, and doesn’t shy away from a spot of philosophy. I couldn’t even begin to summarise the plot in one blog post – kudos to the author for that – but one of the main thrusts is of a brutish man, Jobber Skald, and his intentions to kill the local quarry owner, whilst coming to terms with his affections for newcomer, Perdita Wane. Add to that mix a famous clown and his mad brother (though Powys’s non-judgemental ways of handling the madness were wonderful), a middle-age teacher and his affections for a questionably young lady (whose love is possibly directed elsewhere), a gypsy, a philosopher (Richard Gaul – perhaps a voice of Powy’s himself) and “Hell’s Museum”, a residence / mad-house in which experiments on people and dogs take place… you get the picture. All in all, it’s like Thomas Hardy on acid, and if you can get to grips with the intense exposition – which I loved – and the representation of the local dialect, then it’s worth picking up in order to discover this often-forgotten classic writer.
Perhaps reacting to the horrid smoke and grime experienced during my trip to London, I bought Wildwood, by Roger Deakin. Like any example of nature writing, it’s as much about the author’s relation with the natural world than nature per se, and I couldn’t help at times but feel that it was a kind of rich-boy childhood reminiscence fetish (I know, I said to myself, I’ll just buy a Tudor house with a moat – anyone can do it!). It was good, cleansed me of the Big City, but never really scratched my itch. Instead, I had to pick up Richard Mabey’s fantastic Flora Britannica, which is one of the best books around for understanding how the natural world really is a foundation of British culture, and how plants still play a significant role in our lives.
I shall return to the fantasy genre shortly.