Book review – Country Life by Ken Edwards

Country Life coverAny urbanite knows that the countryside can be a strange and sometimes disconcerting place, where choices are limited and people live by their own rules. Author Ken Edwards takes these impressions and pushes them to the edge (literally if you consider the coastal environment the majority of his characters live in), drawing us into a world of philosophising young men, creative frustration and angry musicians who’ll bottle you, or worse, given half a chance.

Edwards’ Peninsula Region is home to Dennis Chaikowsky, aka DC, house-sitting for his parents, and Alison, aka Wanda, the object of his ever escalating affections.

So far, so ordinary.

Edwards’ writing, however, makes it anything but.

While DC’s neo-Marxist mate Tarquin adds his own political pontificating to the mix and Alison’s husband Severin contributes an uncomfortable a waft of simmering rage, we’re quietly swallowed up by the landscape.

DC’s homeland is far from being a bucolic idyll: “industrial structures can be observed in every direction; grain silos, cranes and harvest hangers mark the return of the familiar hinterland, which in essence is no more than a vast factory floor.”

There are acres of atmosphere in this narrative, off-set exquisitely by the relative poverty of the Peninsula Region.

This is a place wedged under the oppressive gaze of a power station, and lapped by a sea that’s already submerged one assortment of homes. “Fathoms of heavy water, as well as centuries of slow time, cover the drowned town below,” writes Edwards, “The aeroplanes drown the peal of the church bells.”

These sounds, and all the accompanying noises of the countryside and power station, similarly consume DC, who is creating what he calls World Music, capturing then editing the call of starlings, the laboured breathing of a diver, the relentless hum of the power station itself to create something new you’ll find yourself resonating with, even without hearing first hand.

Slewing between omniscient meanderings that feel like they may be those of the power station itself, and conversations that slip in and out of paragraphs without anchoring speech marks, the overall impression is of tides and fields where a path can sink into mud or disappear into mist without pardon.

As we emerge from the bleak winter months, horned poppies bloom and the skylark “begins to give voice.” As Edwards focuses on these details, the wilderness of the area gains a vivid presence that completes his portrait of this deeply recognisable if fictional place. While DC and Tarquin each aspire to their own form of greatness, each makes errors of judgement with unfortunate and, in some cases, tragic consequences.

Regardless, the natural heartbeat of living things continues to permeate the landscape, blending with the hum of the power station. Beautiful, bleak and humorous, Country Life is a book you’ll relish visiting, even as you emerge feeling relieved not to live there yourself.

Country Life by Ken Edwards is published by Unthank Books.

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