Posted by: billpurdue | February 17, 2011

Rural Wales and Rural Oxfordshire

When I picked up The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough [ Sort of Books £6.99 978-0954899516] at my local library I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly sounded like something a bit different.

Set in the mountainous county of Radnorshire in Wales, it’s about two neighbouring and very different farming families, told from the viewpoint of the children. Robin and Martin’s parents are new to farming but seem to be getting on quite well. Andrew is from a completely different household. He is so neglected that he has to make do with hand-me-down clothes and he has so little stimulation that he says very little, except what he picks up from his parents – including swear words. He spends much of his time with the farm dogs or just on his own. Their farmhouse is slowly crumbling and the family only inhabit those rooms that remain weatherproof, his mother Dora never venturing far from the Rayburn cooker.

One day Andrew explores one of the rooms that has been left to decay, a room that has seen far better days in times gone by. He finds a strange box containing a dark convex mirror and at first is scared by the reflection of his own face. The Claude glass, as it is called, becomes his most treasured possession. Later on when Andrew’s parents are finally persuaded that they should send him to school, he forms a friendship with Robin from the neighbouring farm and shows him the Claude glass. It’s the friendship of these two boys that takes centre stage in the second half of the book and it’s the friendship and a quarrel between the two farmers that leads to a devastating ending. It’s powerful stuff. There’s a very good review of the book on the Independent website.

Tom Bullough’s other book A [Sort of Books £6.99 978-0953522767] came out in 2002. It takes its inspiration from his student days when he lived in a house in London with seven others of whom , during one particular week “one had to leave with ME, another turned out to be in prison in France and, one morning, a third materialised in handcuffs on the doorstep accompanied by a troupe of policemen, having been apprehended in West London with a pocketful of pills.” In the book, six students , whose acid factory has been dismantled, flee to rural Wales pursued by drug dealers and the police.

Well, the last episode ever of Lark Rise to Candleford has been shown on the telly. Laura Timmins has probably filled more diaries than she can fit on her bookshelves and the inhabitants of the hamlet and the town have learned so many home truths that the remainder of their lives will be lived in perfect harmony. What’s more, Dorcas has finally admitted that she does have more than one weakness. Whether or not you enjoyed the TV series, if you haven’t read the book by Flora Thompson (or books – “Lark Rise…” is actually a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green), perhaps you might enjoy it. There are several editions available, but the most recent (Jan 2011) is an edition from Oxford University Press with the original wood engravings and an introduction by Phillip Mallett [OUP £14.99 978-0199601608] . There is also a “lost sequel” to Lark Rise entitled Heatherley [ John Owen Smith £7.95 978-1873855294]

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