Posted by: billpurdue | December 8, 2012

It might be good, but did you enjoy it?…

… that’s a question you might ask about the book I’ve just read, which is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I can’t say truthfully that I enjoyed it. It’s Canada by Richard Ford. The reviews say how good the book is and how skilful a writer Richard Ford is, but don’t seem to mention anything about enjoyment of the book and that’s important to me.


First a few words about the plot. The story is narrated by 66 year old Dell Parsons looking back on significant events in his teenage years, which shaped his life. He and his twin sister Berner had oddly matched parents – Bev, a former airman, now engaged on various illegal money making schemes involving the sale of beef and Neeva, a teacher, shy and artistic. Right at the beginning of the book Dell tells us that his parents will rob a bank and that there will be murders later on. Sure enough about 100 pages later his parents do devise a  scheme, full of flaws, to rob a bank. Not surprisingly they are later arrested and Dell and his sister are left to their own devices.

 Their mother, foreseeing their arrest, has arranged for Dell and Berner to be looked after by a friend somewhere further north – they don’t realise that this will be over the border in Canada. Berner decides to go it alone and disappears before their mother’s friend, Mildred Remlinger appears and drives Dell to a small town over the Canadian border to be cared for by her brother Arthur. Arthur turns out to be a strange man, stranger even than Dell’s father, and one who harbours a dark secret. And there, dear reader, I’m going to leave you : you’ll need to read the book to find out what happened later.

I was struck by a remark from the Guardian review of the book, which points out that “the narrative…takes a long time to catch fire”. Well put, but ‘catch fire’ is exaggerating a bit. In my view the plot doesn’t catch fire at all, but might get as far as smouldering. The events, such as they are, as well as the impact of events on Dell, are described in such fine detail that you can read several pages without anything significant happening. And yet, I felt I had to keep on reading. It certainly was not one of those stories that you don’t want to end and I was glad when I finished it. I don’t feel that I would want to read anything similar to Canada again. [Bloomsbury £18.99 9780747596602 – also available in paperback].


Now, for a change, a non-fiction title.  The second (2012) edition of Fragile Earth should in my opinion be recommended reading (or viewing, as it consists of mainly photographs) for, well, just about everyone on the planet. It looks at all the ways that the earth is changing, either because of earthquakes and other natural phenomena, or extreme weather, man’s manipulation of the earth’s resources and impact on the environment and several other factors


Whilst providing statistics about significant events in the recent past – volcanic eruptions, floods, wildfires and so on, there are many photographs showing the effects of nature and man on the earth. Some of the photographs are really amazing – for example a flood in Sindh, Pakistan caused spiders to make for the trees to avoid the water, resulting the trees being completely smothered in cobwebs. There are many ‘before and after’ photographs; there is a pair of photographs of the ‘bird’s nest’ Olympic stadium in Beijing, the first taken on a bad air pollution day on July 27th 2008 and the second about a week later when about a third of the city’s cars were taken off the roads and many heavily polluting building sites and factories were shut down.

[Collins £25 9780007455232]


I’m reading: A Room with a View by E M Forster – a timeless classic.





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