Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Disputed Land, By Tim Pears
Indifference to a world on the wane
Wednesday 13 April 2011
After a blissful summer rattling round his grandparents' old pile on the Wales-Shropshire border, 13-year-old Theo is pleased to be invited back for Christmas. Grandpa has summoned his three children – Rod, Jonny and Gwen – and their families. Both frugal Oxford academics, Theo's parents, Rod and Amy find Jonny's brazen materialism deeply vulgar, while Theo is excited by his uncle's sense of energy.
More of an enigma, Jonny's wife is stirringly beautiful but their kids are ghastly snobs, which Tim Pears's novel picks out with delightful narcissistic detail. Theo also finds himself attracted to Holly, the younger of Auntie Gwen's two girls. Gwen is trying for a baby with her new girlfriend, which news gets shockingly short shrift from Grandma – more on account of global overpopulation than objection to sexual orientation.
Pears has terrific fun with his cast and is highly skilled at drawing out foibles and grudges among the tribe. Solid, rooted heritage and the manner in which we engage with those around us is something of a stock-in-trade for him. This seventh novel marks a return to the more political canvasses of his earlier work, such as In The Place of Fallen Leaves and In a Land of Plenty. Pears called these novels social chronicles; strong (and in places satirical) narratives underpinned by explicit ethical concerns.
Landed, Pears's previous novel, reprised the visceral attachment to landscape and placed the protagonist as a victim, not innocent but buffeted by social forces he was unable to control. Disputed Land shares the same sentimental tenacity about physical place but turns back towards the public realm in Grandma's clarion call for engagement in place of indifference. Judging by the few glimpses of Theo's situation decades in the future, this exhortation would seem to have gone unheeded.
The disputed land could be the declining state of the world itself, the cavilling that derails meaningful action on climate change. It's also the physical landscape of the Welsh marches, fought over for centuries. Grandpa wrenched his patch of land from another farmer to plant his own orchards. Yet Theo realises that capitalist Uncle Jonny will try to squander the family seat to pay off his own business failure. Ultimately, it is the myopia of this profligate existence, recalled with Theo's voice of youthful naivety, that gives this novel heft and weight, and a curiously nostalgic tone.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Mario Balotelli: Staff at arson-hit Manchester Dogs' Home convinced Liverpool striker is behind five-figure donation
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams cast in Channel 4 drama about cyber bullying
Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's 'Booty' music video is just a load of butts
Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
The Walking Dead season 5 synopsis: Spoilers and existential questions revealed
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God