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Sunday, 10 June 2012

2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist - Landed - Tim Pears

I don’t know if I’ve just hit a rough patch with the books I’m reading or if another couple of months existence is making me an even grumpier old man!

Tim Pears’ “Landed” started off so promisingly with a Collision Investigator’s Report (with photos) and a tantalising thread of an unknown fatality, a serious injury and the possibility of the accident being caused by a stray dog.  This is written as a fact based clinical numbered report, lacking compassion. We then flash back to a sheep farm in the Welsh highlands where an eleven-year-old Owen is being partially raised by his almost silent grandfather and his grandmother. We then have a section about the physical and mental effects of losing a limb (obviously the result of the accident in the first “chapter”) and our protagonist’s suffering of pain in his missing hand. There are further flashbacks to Owen’s youth and what would appear to be current time first person narratives by our main character and further ones by his estranged wife. In my mind this was a fair, if somewhat uneven, construction of a broken man’s life, which would slowly lead to a revelation of the questions asked in the early sections, explain the relevance of studying local wildlife and bring the Welsh countryside into the story as a character in its own right.

Even now he phones. Isn’t meant to but he does. Now Johnny’s not around I let him talk.. You wouldn’t believe it was that shy, proud man he used to be. Begging me to get back together, to bring the children round, to let him see them. What can I say? I know I can’t say yes. Then he goes all silent. ‘You still there?’ I says. No reply, but you can sense him. Brooding. Sobbing to his self, his hand over the mouthpiece.
Me just as bad at the other end, after I’ve put down the phone.

The problem is though, Part Two begins and the whole novel just falls apart. Each “chapter” beginning with a biblical quote (“he cometh up, and is cut down” or “i will take heed to my ways; that i offend not in my tongue”) then leading into a physical and spiritual journey for a number of our characters. This 130 page section was full of holes, nonsensical behaviour (who would let a 6 year old girl go to the toilet unsupervised?) and strange happenings. I almost gave up, but thought “only 70 odd pages to go I may as well finish it”. In a way I was glad I made it through to the end as it came as a surprise which could explain the earlier misgivings I had. However the resolution of some of the grander questions and sections in Part One (Owen’s connection to the Welsh countryside, the unique bird sounds, badgers and more) was simply not present.

So, in my opinion, two poorer books in a row from this year’s list and I’m already questioning whether I’ll tackle 2013’s edition. 
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