Re-read 1/3/15: This book came as an exercise for me in the subtle power of W.J. Burley's prose. This was one of the first of his novels that I read aRe-read 1/3/15: This book came as an exercise for me in the subtle power of W.J. Burley's prose. This was one of the first of his novels that I read and the first that I have re-read. I was more than a little surprised by how much of it I remembered - not dialogue, or even story per se, but scenes. The early scenes introducing each of the main characters and the climax scene have both lived on in my imagination; snapshots into the lives of (fictional) others. I've commented in my reviews of other Wycliffe books that Burley is masterful of this but this was clear evidence, if I needed it.
As for the book. Whether you choose to see this as one of the author's best, as some think, will largely depend on how you view plot twists: masterful story telling or cheap trick? There's a hint right at the start of the book that all is not as it seems but the reader is left with no more than that hint. For much of the book we're as in the dark as the protagonist. A stroke of luck then leads to a series of very rapid developments to tidy up the threads (even some that are introduced as late). No doubt some investigations must proceed and resolve similarly but surely they're few....more
Although born in Somerset, John Branfield moved to Cornwall in 1961, where he wrote much of his fiction; including titles such as Nancekuke and The Sugar Mouse, Cornish-set novels aimed primarily at adolescent girls. He was a well-regarded author of fiction in the 1970’s and 1980’s, who, like D.M. Thomas, seems to have given up that part of his career sometime c.1990. Where Thomas returned his hand to poetry, his first love, however, Branfield re-emerged in the early twenty-first century as a biographer of the Newlyn School. This book then, could be said to straddle the two phases in his career both literally and figuratively. Written in the 1980’s but not published until 2001, the novel is structured around Newlyn School paintings.
Each chapter begins with a reference to a painting – its title, date, artist and a description – as in a catalogue. Words only go so far however and I feel that the book could be improved considerably if the publishers had gone to the expense of printing full colour reproductions of each painting, or a related work, on the facing page at the beginning of the chapter. Perhaps this was one reason for the book’s not being published when it was first written – the expense of both the printing and the acquiring of rights to do so may have been prohibitive and it’s conceivable that either or all of the writer, his agent and publisher may have felt as I do. Today though, the reader may partially circumvent this problem through use of a computer, or any other device connected to the internet: a quick search on the web retrieves images of many of the paintings without any difficulty (although some are fictitious).
These paintings are used to illustrate a simple tale of obsession slowly destroying a marriage. The protagonist, Roger Trevail , is a writer experiencing a creative slump that, we are led to believe, may be a permanent decline, (no doubt the pun is intended anyway but poor copy-editing occasionally renders his name as ‘Travail’). On one hand, Trevail could be seen as a fictionalised agglomeration of the Tangye brothers, Derek and Nigel; writing short stories, Cornish non-fiction and memoirs of leaving London & setting up in Cornwall complete with children & animals. On another though, there are elements which suggest something of a roman-à-clef – most notably, of course, in both Trevail and Branfield’s interest in the Newlyn School.
Rather than shrinking rom any such accusations though, Branfield plays with them – Trevail experiences a touch of envy that contrasts the honesty of painterly self-portraits with the subterfuge of writerly roman-a-clefs, suggesting that critics allow painters a greater freedom than they do authors. Later, indeed, Trevail asks ‘who the hell is J.B.?’ in response to one critical review. We do not know either, in the context of the fictional world, but it would be difficult to imagine that Branfield had used his own initials here subconsciously. There is also a curious foreshadowing in chapter 3 when a novel about the Newlyn school is laid aside by Trevail. It’s difficult to know just how much that is a coincidence and how much it is a black joke at the author’s own expense.
The title of the book itself is a reference to a Stanhope Forbes lecture delivered to the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1900 in which he described the plein-air philosophy of the post-impressionist Newlyn school as ‘a breath of fresh air’. Although the style is varied in the book here, it would be more than generous to bestow such an accolade upon Branfield. In addition to the catalogue-like entries which begin each chapter, some chapters are comprised entirely of them; others include a brief history of the school, a short story by Trevail, mock newspaper articles, and his wife’s memoir. Just over fifty per cent of the chapters though, are written in the first person of Trevail with a sort of navel-gazing intensity that matches his character’s obsession.
Trevail cannot understand artists producing work that is average, thinking they should give up, somehow unaware that this is himself. Given the possibility raised above of some degree of autobiography being contained in the story we might wonder if Branfield is himself trying to work out whether or not to persevere with his calling. He invents the Newlyn school artist Denzil Hooper, who burns all of his work in a pique of despondency. Later, Trevail tries the same trick with one of his own manuscripts but he believes fervently that painting is a more delicate record of creation and knows that he has drafts of this manuscript elsewhere. His wife sees the stunt as childish attention-seeking.
It’s difficult, then, to see what this book has to say, if anything, about the Cornish experience. Difficult, indeed, to see it as any more than an artist trying to work out his problems through his art and comparison with other artists. For some writers that might have been the Bloomsbury Set, but Bramfield has a clear passion for the Newlyn School. Very few of the artists in that group were Cornish and their work largely foisted an English bucolic idyll of simple, honest, peasants onto Cornwall. Here, like in those paintings, ‘the trees are in full leaf and block the view of the valleys and hillsides’. ...more
The B.T. Batsford/English Heritage series of books are lamented by many British archaeologists, often offering easy-to-read introductory texts on theiThe B.T. Batsford/English Heritage series of books are lamented by many British archaeologists, often offering easy-to-read introductory texts on their subjects, be they archaeological periods or, as here, EH managed sites. This one's a little different though.
Charles Thomas is the authority on Tintagel, having had an active research interest in it for half a century. This book though, is a rather personal one - in writing a 'popular' book Thomas seems to have felt liberated to make some snarky comments and interpretations (conjecture) that he would probably feel a little more reluctant to suggest (or at least get away with) in peer-reviewed articles. More sad even that though is something that was probably out of his control and is, instead, more probably the fault of commissioning editors at EH: this book was published two years into the most extensive period of fieldwork yet undertaken on the site.
The book was then almost necessarily out of date as soon as it was published but perhaps some sympathy is due for those editors - afterall, at least the book was commissioned. All of which isn't to say that the book's bad - it isn't - it offers an accessible and sometimes charming insight into one of Atlantic Britain's most enigmatic archaeological sites and the history of research as well legend that has accompanied it. It just could have been so much more....more
Hettie Merrick opened a pasty shop in the Lizard now known as Ann's Pasties. Her daughter, the eponymous Ann, has emerged as a champion of proper CornHettie Merrick opened a pasty shop in the Lizard now known as Ann's Pasties. Her daughter, the eponymous Ann, has emerged as a champion of proper Cornish pasties in the last fifteen years, challenging celebrity chefs to get it right and stop mucking around with traditional Cornish food.
This pamphlet is less confrontational than that but it's written from the same ethos of proper Cornish food; a reminder that a proper Cornish kitchen isn't complete without a rolling pin, lots of lard and cream, and big maids. Merrick writes with fondness and style of her memories growing up in Gunwalloe in the 1930's and 1940's, interspersing her recollections of life - from festivals and celebrations to fetching the daily water and eggs - with the food cooked by her mother and aunts. It's a delight....more
This is a rather odd but intriguing little book, plainly meant to distil thirty years of academic research into a more accessible format. Bernard DeacThis is a rather odd but intriguing little book, plainly meant to distil thirty years of academic research into a more accessible format. Bernard Deacon writes here in his own, sometimes scathingly sarcastic, voice with all of the entertainment but also bias that that suggests. In some ways, this is a shame. The intention here was obviously to write a 'Cornish Studies' book for the interested member of the public - whether Cornish, tourist or immigrant - and he has been largely successful in that but his naked personal opinions somewhat undermine that aim and leave the author open to unjustified criticism.
I say unjustified because the book is largely a fair representation of the 'New' Cornish Studies that was pioneered by Deacon and Philip Payton and that original research has been academically very well underpinned. Indeed, the author is highly aware of the tightrope walked in objectively writing about an emotive subject and has been abused by pro- and anti-Cornish nationalist lobbies in the past.
Overall, I do recommend this as a popular text on the subject, written almost as a tourist guide by writing a couple of paragraphs at a time on well known historic figures and (primarily) places, all lavishly illustrated with colour photographs in a small, pocket-sized format. When you come across the wry, caustic asides, just remember that they are wry. I confess I know Bernard and 'get' his sense of humour entirely. I smiled at some of these comments because I could hear his voice saying them and that's the thing: to make the text less academic and more popular, Bernard has largely written as he would talk. Whether you agree with his politics or not, I hope other readers could still be entertained while learning something about Cornwall....more
Antonia Barber has had a second home in Mousehole since the 1980’s. There are few things Mousehole’s more famous for in Cornwall than Tom Bawcock’s Eve and so it should come as no surprise that an author residing there for any length of time should hear the tale. Here, Barber reworks the legend as a short story for reading with small children, beautifully illustrated by Nicola Bayley.
In Barber’s version, the story is told from the point of view of Mowzer, Tom’s Cat (or, as the story is told, Tom is Mowzer’s pet human). She opens the book by proclaiming a land between the seas at the end of England – a perception of Cornwall firmly rooted in her second-home owning experience. Such an image is also a powerful one though and fitting for introducing a legend and, indeed, any story to be read aloud: setting a dramatic scene and capturing the audience’s attention from the off. Here, the illustrations form a core part of the book rather than being simply supplementary to the imagery of the text: the book is clearly designed to be read with a child, being wide enough to spread across a lap and every page being illustrated to some degree or another – there is a double-spread without any text, but never the other way around. In fact, the text rarely takes up more than a quarter of the available page space (half of one side).
Mowzer is present throughout the book, even accompanying Tom to sea, where she fights and comforts the storm. Of course, no-one knows how Tom survived the storm (if the legend is true in any way), so why not allow the author some licence for an exciting, magical climax to the story? Beyond that point, the author’s version is pretty faithful to the traditional version. If you know any children aged 3-5, I’d strongly encourage you to buy this book for them and read it together. ...more