Villager by Tom Cox
This is a vibrant, funny and fascinating fictional offering from nature, music and folklore writer Tom Cox, author of many observational writings on life and notebooks. This is a novel of several parts, different times and various characters, all brought to life with a masterly style. Diaries, accounts of travels and detailed descriptions of a life shared on the banks of a river are tied together with the musings of “Me”, a difficult to define part of the village, the landscape and the centuries of life it has seen. There are also some parts of this book in a different format – a Message Board for the community reflecting obsessions and a Search Engine. The time settings are also varied – now, decades ago and decades in the future. There are the dreamy times, of rivers that speak, of a pile of rocks which are described in many ways, and the simple joys of progressing across the land. There are also the harder times of change and development which don’t always work. Whatever the section, the writing is always assured and confident, with a real feel for the landscape and the plants that contribute to the overall setting. There are so many details, the abandoned gates and latches, the golf course layout, the birds whose presence and songs seem to define the experience of the British countryside. The characters, not all locals and in residence for generations, but those who visit, work, escape from cities and life in other countries, are well introduced and consistent, and bring the reader into an understanding of their stories. I found it an amazing and very different read, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
There are many things that keep this book a cohesive whole, despite the time jumps and character arcs that are nearer long chapter length. The character of Me holds the narrative together, and in the most literal sense gives depth to the stories. The stories themselves are like trails across the book, with recurring characters, references and incidents. The area, particularly the village, has stories that merit different levels of attention – the battle that raged over the ground, that meant that blood poured into the ground. The river that overflows, makes at least one house damp, but also forms a boundary, a source of comfort for a lonely man. The music that the area inspires that lingers in the memory not of one or two individuals, but over life times. A golf course that trips up the unwary with the holes beyond the ninth. What items survive the decades and what are they for? A doll that seems to lurk in an unexpected place? Animals that carry secrets? A description that I particularly enjoyed is “As the dog – a smallish one, of I don’t know what breed which never makes a noise and puts me in mind of a bereaved aunt from a drabber Britain – watched us”. Those who have read some of Cox’s other writing will appreciate the subject matter of the risks and joys of sea bathing, the speech and sheer noise of a river, and the idea of people glimpsed and not seen again.
This is a book which I greatly enjoyed, found absolutely fascinating, and showed the many moods of nature and landscape. The characters endure mistakes and frustrations, but also the companionship of nature. Glints of humour, the love of the natural world and so much more dominate this book. This is a memorable book for all the right reasons, and I thoroughly recommend it to Tom Cox’s many fans, and also those who want to read of nature in all its wildness, depth and influence on the people that visit, travel through it and stay for decades.