Ape's Reviews > Notwithstanding: Stories from an English Village

Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernières
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's review
May 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: short-stories, england
Read from May 04 to 08, 2011

** spoiler alert ** This book is a collection of stories all set in the village of Notwithstanding, at different time periods, and about the different people living there. So plotlines and characters crop up in each others stories, and some open-ended stories are concluded in others. These stories appear to have been written over a number of years and are like a fictionalised version of de Bernieres' own memories of the village he grew up in and the people he knew and the stories he heard. This is well to do southern country living, but I was glad to see there was a mix of characters, and some of the working class got a feature - the gardeners, golf course staff etc, without being patronised or portrayed as simpletons. There is an array of great characters and stories in here. I particularly liked the two where Lizzie the crow features, the one with the idiot wanting a putting lawn on his property, and trying to deal with the moles.

Because it dots about in time, it does also touch on the deterioation of village community spirit, rural poverty, and these villages being turned into the holiday/weekend playgrounds of London rich, so that property prices rocket and the local's children can't afford to live there and have to move away; village shops and services close because there are too few living all week, all year round in the village to support them, and a general loss of community spirit. This isn't just a southern problem, but a general rural problem in England. I come from a little-ish village in the countryside. When I was growing up this was already very much on the way, and there was a definate divide between the old community and the new rich that had moved in. Although I like the village itself, which is in most parts the same - the history, the buildings, the countryside etc - I don't like the village itself so much and it's certainly not somewhere I would want to live. Although you can't get too rose-tinted - if things didn't continue and change, they would stagnant and die, but somethings we don't always go for the kind of changes that are for the long term best. And then of course village communities where everyone knows everyone else's business are fine as long as you have nothing to hide, don't mind living in each other's back pockets, but I personally do prefer a bit of my own sapce. And then of course as well, if you don't fit in with what the "village" expects, it can be quite isolating. And what the "village" is exactly, changes with time, as one of the characters here, Jack Oaks, finds out - he ends up not belonging in the village he's grown up in and his people come from. So it's all a bit of a double edged sword.

So for me, although I am north of the north-south divide, there is a lot of memories & issues I can sympathise with and even recognise from my own experiences.

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