The beautiful, questing second novel in Tim Pears’ acclaimed West Country trilogy. Two teenagers, bound by love yet divided by fate, forge separate paths in pre-First World War Devon and Cornwall
1912. Leo is on a journey. Aged thirteen and banished from the secluded farm of his childhood, he travels through Devon, grazing on berries and sleeping in copses. Behind him lies the past, and before him the West Country, spread out like a tapestry. But a wanderer is never alone for long, try as he might – and soon Leo is taken in by gypsies, with their waggons, horses and vivid attire. Yet he knows he cannot linger, and must forge on to Penzance, towards the western horizon…
Lottie is at home. Life on the estate continues as usual, yet nothing is as it was. Her father is distracted by the promise of new love and Lottie is increasingly absorbed in the natural world: the profusion of wild flowers in the meadow, the habits of predators, and the mysteries of anatomy. And of course, Leo is absent. How will the two young people ever find each other again?
In The Wanderers, Tim Pears’s writing, both transcendental and sharply focused, reaches new heights, revealing the beauty and brutality that coexist in nature. Timeless, searching, charged with raw energy and gentle humour, this is a delicately wrought tale of adolescence; of survival; of longing, loneliness and love.
Last January The Horseman, the first instalment in Tim Pears’s West Country trilogy, introduced us to young Leo Sercombe, a Devon carter’s son with an exceptional affinity for horses. Set in the early 20th century, it is a gorgeously hypnotic paean to rural England, recreating in its myopic focus, languid pace and spare prose a way of being in the world that is all but unrecoverable to our hyperconnected modern minds. Unfolding slowly, it saves its punch for the final pages when Leo’s friendship with Lottie Prideaux, the local landowner’s daughter, at last brings disaster down upon him. The Wanderers continues the story of both Leo and Lottie, and with little in the way of conventional plot to drive the narrative, it is largely the question of whether they will find one another again, and how, and when, that pulls the reader along.
That it does so, without question, is testament to Pears’s uncommon skill. It is no mean feat for a writer to eschew the tyranny of cliffhangers, coincidences and plot twists, instead trusting the reader to stay with them for the sheer pleasure of the writing and the interest in the world conjured up. It requires unwavering confidence; a consistency of pace and vision that must be there from the outset, and must not falter; and something withheld, however subtly, that creates an itch to turn the page.
His writing slips between gorgeously sonorous Old Testament rhythms and clipped, verbless sentences
None of this is to say that nothing happens in The Wanderers. Having been driven from his home, Leo (usually referred to as “the boy”) lives for a time with Gypsies, then with a hermit, and works in a Dartmoor mine and on a farm. Lottie pursues a fascination for anatomy, endures her father’s remarriage, and unwillingly prepares herself to be sent to Germany to be “finished”. Slowly, incrementally, Pears sets the stage for the final book in the trilogy.
In common with many contemporary novelists who are drawn to describe the relationship between men and landscape – for instance, Cynan Jones and Ben Myers – Pears seems to owe a debt to Cormac McCarthy. His writing slips between gorgeously sonorous Old Testament rhythms and clipped, verbless sentences (“He ate the meat and bread crouched upon the rock in his fine suit, and beheld the horse below and knew not whether he was blessed or cursed. Wealthy or poor. Free or bound. Joyful or desolate. In time he might discover”). Similar, too, is the almost anthropological detachment of the narrator and a wordless unsentimentality that nevertheless becomes highly emotionally charged as masculine vulnerability is revealed in spite of the characters’ best efforts. But McCarthy devotees need not be concerned about encountering some kind of pastiche in these pages: The Horseman and The Wanderers are much gentler and less elemental, and their bucolic, prewar, West Country world could not be more different from the harsh landscapes of the American west.
It is the first world war, of course, that hangs over these books, and which Pears so deftly employs (and avoids). It’s impossible to set a book in 1912 without fencing in some way with its shadow, but he does not rush us towards it too precipitately. Instead, the coming conflict is foreshadowed here and there, but in the subtlest of ways:
They each stood and watched whatever it was growing larger, approaching them through the air. Bearing down upon them, flying low and fast along the ridge, straight as arrows. Leo felt his knees weaken … the two mute swans rose and flew over them, a yard or two above their heads.
The Wanderers is peppered with moments of awestruck wonder at the natural world, often related to birds, for Leo is a noticer, and in his own way, a thinker. Their effect is to remind us that, just a century ago, life for ordinary people was full of mysteries that could not be resolved by typing a keyword into Google. This meant that experience itself – thought, curiosity, imagination – was differently textured, something that many writers of books set in the past fail to take into account when they remove modern technology but ignore the phenomenological implications of a world without it. For instance, there were far fewer mirrors; news travelled slowly, if at all; many people journeyed no further than a few miles from their home, few expected to move faster than a horse could carry them. In both this book and its forerunner, the care that has been taken with historical research is obvious; but it is this deeper, subtler layer of reconstruction that sets these moving novels apart.
Melissa Harrison, The Guardian
From the prize-winning author of In the Place of Fallen Leaves comes a beautiful, hypnotic pastoral novel reminiscent of Thomas Hardy, about an unexpected friendship between two children, set in Devon in 1911
1911. In a forgotten valley on the Devon–Somerset border, the seasons unfold, marked only by the rituals of the farming calendar. Twelve-year-old Leopold Sercombe skips school to help his father, a carter. Skinny and pale, Leo dreams of a job on the estate’s stud farm. He is breaking a colt for his father when a boy dressed in a Homburg, breeches and riding boots appears. Peering under the stranger’s hat, he discovers Miss Charlotte, the Master’s daughter. And so begins a friendship between the children, bound by a deep love of horses, but divided by rigid social boundaries – boundaries that become increasingly difficult to navigate as they approach adolescence.
Twelve-year-old Leopold Sercombe lives on the Devon-Somerset border with his family, all of whom are employed on the local country estate. Leo spends his days trying to avoid school, preferring to work with his father and brother. When he meets Charlotte, daughter of the landowner, the two discover a mutual passion for horses that transcends class distinctions, and they embark on a clandestine friendship that threatens the Sercombes’ way of life. From January 1911 to June 1912, The Horseman immerses the reader in Leo’s world in a novel that is as moving and profound as it is evocative of the landscape and period.
The Horseman is Tim Pears’s ninth novel, following acclaimed fiction including In the Place of Fallen Leaves, Landed and In a Land of Plenty. It is the first in a planned trilogy, and his focus here is on the working-class men and women who support the estate – farm labourers, kitchen maids, stable boys.
His portrayal of their work has an understated dignity. He neither elevates them to hero status nor belittles their endeavours. These are robust, hard-working, occasionally frustrated characters who live and breathe the rural life into which they’ve been born. Leo’s mother, Ruth, can read and is demonstrably shrewder than her husband, and yet “they had… one wooden armchair. His father’s. Mother used it if he was out. Now she rose, relinquished the chair to him, shifted the kettle on to the hotplate.” Throughout the novel, Pears conveys complex relationships – between master and servant, parent and child, brother and sister – with a lightness of touch.
It’s a pastoral novel but also muscular and, at times, brutal: “His mouth was full of blood. He opened his lips and the blood poured out. He could hear groaning. He realised it came from himself.” This is a hard world – seen in the killing and preparing of the family pig, the breaking in of horses, the trampling to death of a farm labourer by cows. Pears writes these episodes with intricate detail, suffusing them with sensitivity and immediacy.
His prose is luminous, drawing in the reader: “The air was cold and clear. There were skeins of mist in the low fields that were like the breath of the land made visible, like his own.”
The Horseman can be seen as a tripartite love story: Leo’s love for the horses, his love for Charlotte, his love for the landscape: “He might have been the first human upon the earth, striding through the garden. He doubted there were any places so beautiful in all the planets known or unknown to man, or to God.”
A scene in which Leo grooms one of his father’s horses is as delicately portrayed as any love scene. The novel’s bittersweet ending is shot through with a quiet tragedy and muted optimism that feels infused with love.
Pears’s fiction has been likened to Thomas Hardy’s, and the comparison is apposite. As a coming-of-age novel, The Horseman is wise and insightful. As a love story, it is moving and sincere. And as a portrayal of rural Edwardian England, it is powerful, vivid and humane.
Hannah Beckerman, The Observer
IN THE LIGHT OF MORNING
May 1944: High above the mountains of occupied Slovenia an aeroplane drops three British parachutists – brash MP Major Jack Farwell, radio operator Sid Dixon, and young academic Lieutenant Tom Freedman. Greeted upon arrival by a group of Partisans, the men are led off into the countryside.
Despite the distant crackle of gunfire, the war feels a long way off for Tom.
The Partisans, too, are not what he was expecting – courageous, kind, and alluring, especially Jovan, their commander, and the hauntingly beautiful Marija.
As the enemy’s net begins to tighten, they find evidence of massacres, of a dark and terrible band of men pursuing them.
As they stumble their way towards a final, tragic battle, so the relationships within the group begin to fray, with Tom finding himself forced to face up to his deepest, most secret desires.
“Tim Pears has made the battle zone of family life in provincial England his own fertile fictional terrain…The novel succeeds in illuminating a pivotal moment in world history, while casting a steady light back on England…Rather like Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, this is an intimate tale of a few individuals poised at a moment when one epoch gives way to another.” (Maya Jaggi Guardian)
“[T]he characters are beautifully and economically drawn, and he is excellent on the sights and especially the smells of the landscape – the beauty even of a war-torn land.” (The Times)
“Brilliantly nail-biting. Tim Pears tackles the horrors and ambiguity of war with his usual deft observance, in this depiction of a largely forgotten World War II slideshow in Eastern Europe.” (Daily Mail)
“Superb … a thought provoking, lyrical and deeply humane book” (Sunday Business Post)
“Pears’s prose, with its sensuousness and subtlety, is a fine vehicle for the intelligent, unsentimental tale he tells.” (Sunday Times)
Leonard and Rosemary Cannon summon their middle-aged offspring, along with partners and children, to the family home in the Welsh Marches for the Christmas holiday.
As the gathered family settle in to their first Christmas together for some years, the grown siblings – Rodney, Jonny and Gwen – are surprised when they are invited to each put stickers on the furniture and items they wish to inherit from their parents.
Disputed Land is narrated by Leonard and Rosemary’s thirteen-year-old grandson, Theo, who observes how from these innocent beginnings age-old fissures open up in the relationships of those around him.
Looking back at this Christmas gathering from his own middle-age – a narrator at once nostalgic and naive – Theo Cannon remembers his imperious grandmother Rosemary, alpha-male uncle Jonny, abominable twin cousins Xan and Baz; he recalls his love for his grandfather Leonard and the burgeoning feelings for his cousin Holly. And he asks himself the question: if a single family cannot solve the problem of what it bequeaths to future generations, then what chance does a whole society have of leaving the world intact?
“Packs a real emotional punch…Pears, who could not write an ugly sentence if he tried … His portrait of a family at a time of change is also a lament for a country which is losing its environmental way.” (Mail on Sunday)
“Beautifully understated…A low-key family gathering in the Welsh Marches blossoms into an elegiac meditation on our relationship with the land we inhabit.” (David Robson Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year)
“‘Delightful … Pears has terrific fun with his cast and is highly skilled at drawing out foibles and grudges” (James Urquhart Independent)
“Very sympathetic, intelligent and moving … Pears’s depiction of enduring married love is beautifully done … Pears is so adept at the illuminating detail, writes so beautifully of the pleasures of life … it is a warm and affirmative novel, one which offers incidental joys on every page. It is perhaps the finest book he has written yet.” (Allan Massie The Scotsman)
“A thorough examination of nostalgia itself.” (Daily Mail)
Brought up in the Anglo-Welsh borders by an affectionate but alcoholic and feckless mother, Owen Ithell’s sense of self is rooted in his long, vivid visits to his grandparents’ small farm in the hills.
As an adult he moves to an English city where he builds a new life, working as a gardener.
He meets Mel, they have children. He believes he has found happiness – and love – of a sort. But a tragic accident changes the course of his life and the lives of those he loves is changed forever.
Owen is haunted by suicidal thoughts. In his despair, he resolves to reconnect with both his past and the natural world, and with his children he embarks on a long, fateful journey, walking to the Welsh borders of his childhood. Powerful, richly evocative and perfectly poised between the hope of redemption and the threat of irrevocable tragedy, Landed is Tim Pears’ most assured and beguiling novel to date.
“This novel really sang to me….artfully sculpted, more layered, more powerfully elegiac. This is a really beautiful novel.” (Barbara Trapido)
“Pears is a remarkable prose stylist…Landed offers rich pickings.” (The Times)
“Pears is back on top form in this beautifully crafted story…Thrillingly well-observed…The ending is a powerful blend of poignancy and moral ambivalence… If one of the tasks of a novelist is to open our eyes to the world around us, Pears has executed that task with rare aplomb.” (Sunday Telegraph)
“Beautifully and evocatively written” (Scotsman)
“powerful: it shows the grief that overwhelms a parent at the death of a child and…the darkness that lies beneath the surface of a superficially happy family…There is no denying Pears’ achievement in the character of Owen, a raw, desperate man even before he is filled with grief, and his deeply poetic descriptions of an old-fashioned life on the land.” (Daily Telegraph)
Ezra and Sheena Pepin live in Oxford with their three children. Ezra has abandoned his calling as an anthropologist; Sheena has found hers running a travel company.
They are like everyone else: overworked, worried about their children, trying to preserve their marriage. But when change comes knocking at the Pepins’ door, the family will never be quite the same again. Perceptive and funny, Blenheim Orchard is both human drama at its most powerful and an acute portrait of the times we live in.
‘A brilliantly insightful family saga, full of comedy and sadness’ (Daily Mail)
‘Pears is a master at drawing significance out of the everyday … a lasting portrait of a family breaking apart’ (Sunday Times)
‘The sudden catastrophe is riveting: its aftermath is dramatic agony’ (TL)
‘An unflinching portrait of the subtle mechanisms of a modern marriage’ (Daily Telegraph)
‘Early nineteenth-century France had Balzac, we have Tim Pears’ The Times
For John, a potato isn’t just a staple food, it’s also something wondrous, the secret of his success and the key to the future. With his brother, Greg, he has turned his father’s greengrocery business into Spudnik, Britain’s largest dealer in potatoes. Now he wants to change the world by introducing, through potatoes, edible vaccines: plants genetically modified to provide an edible alternative to injections.
But as John spins round and round the ring road avoiding his turn off to work he has to figure out how to tell his brother that deep in the Venezuelan jungle, volunteers have died during the latest illegal trials. Deaths that they have to find some way to hide. Wake Up is a book about our times, and how we are hurtling, almost silently, into a new age with implications that are unfathomable. Funny, fluent, and provocative it is a major new novel from one of our finest contemporary writers.
‘A fluent, provocative and unsettling story of our times by a leading British novelist’ — Publishinfg News
‘Dark social comedy and satire with an accompanying rich sauce of sex… He is a writer with purpose’ — Guardian
‘Tim Pears is himself, and his strange and unsettling novel might help a few more of us wake up’ — Independent on Sunday
‘Unsettling … this is a satire which insidiously works into your system’ — Scotland on Sunday
‘Very modern and provocatively written tale of a genetic engineering experiment going spectacularly wrong’ — Daily Mirror
‘Wake Up is perfect… It is utterly compelling and completely real—a fine achievement’ — The Tablet
A REVOLUTION OF THE SUN
It begins at the stroke of midnight on the first day of 1997. As the year turns, a group of disparate individuals from different backgrounds, from all corners of the country, are about to embark on separate journeys which will converge over the course of the next twelve months: among them, Rebecca – mother-to-be, Sam – amnesiac, Roderick – Conservative MP, Jack – lorry driver, Martha – cat burglar, Ben – paraplegic child, Solo – his abandoned father.
At the end of that year, their lives will have changed irrevocably, some for better, some for worse, but changed nonetheless. They cannot know what will happen to them, but there is an inevitability in their shared destiny that will prove impossible to withstand…
A Revolution of the Sun tells the story of one momentous year through the eyes of the people who lived it. It is not only their stories, but also the anatomy of a nation in flux. Ambitious, powerful, irresistible, it is the work of a writer at the peak of his powers and once again demonstrates Pears to be a great contemporary novelist.
“Tim Pears specialises in grand panoramas of our national life: teeming casts and multi-tracked plotting heavy with the scent of zeitgeist. For this, and quite a lot more besides, he deserves the highest praise” (Guardian)
“The scope of this novel is far reaching. That it succeeds in combining all the elements and thrusting them ever forwards with humour and affection is testament to Pears’ bold vision and large talent” (Daily Mail)
“A hugely ambitious and enjoyable novel” (The Times)
IN A LAND OF PLENTY
In a small town in the middle of England, the aftermath of the Second World War brings change. For ambitious industrialist Charles Freeman, it offers new opportunities and marriage toMary. He buys the big house on the hill and nails his aspirations to the future.
In quick succession, three sons and a daughter bring life to the big house and, with it, the seeds of family joy and tragedy. As the children grow and struggle with the hazards of adulthood, Charles’ business expands in direct proportion to his girth and becomes a symbol of the town’s fortunes as Britain claws its way back from the grey austerity of wartime Britain.
As times change, so do the family’s fortunes. Their stories create a generous epic, an extraordinarily rich and plangent hymn to the transformation of middle England over the past fifty years. At its heart is a diverse and persuasive cast of loveable and odious characters attempting to contend with the restrictions of their generation. This is the story of our lives.
“‘A big book with a big heart. Pears is an unashamedly moving writer and this marvellous book will reduce many to tears’ Punch”
“‘His genius in telling a story…An operatic novel full of death, sex, brothers, sisters, cousins and throbbing hearts’ Daily Telegraph”
“‘Astonishing and amibitious…Each detail is resonant, and the author’s realism and compassion irradiates the writing. A story about people – us – and their context, written with authority and unshowy grace. Early nineteenth-century France had Balzac, we have Pears to trace our fortunes and follies’ The Times”
“‘Impossible to resist. I could go on about how wonderful it is, but read it for yourself’ Time Out”
“‘He’s an astonishing novelist, as interested in small domestic detail as in the wider implications of human relationships. A long book, yes, but so satisfying that I wished it even longer’
WINNER OF THE HAWTHORNDEN PRIZE AND THE RUTH HADDEN MEMORIAL AWARD
Tim Pears’ prize-winning, critically acclaimed debut about a hot summer in a Devon village where time seems to stand still
This overwhelmingly hot summer everything seems to be slowing down in the tiny Devon village where Alison lives, as if the sun is pouring hot glue over it. ‘This idn’t nothin’,’ says Alison’s grandmother, recalling a drought when the earth swallowed lambs, and the summer after the war when people got electric shocks off each other. But Alison knows her grandmother’s memory is lying: this is far worse. She feels that time has stopped just as she wants to enter the real world of adulthood. In fact, in the cruel heat of summer, time is creeping towards her, and closing in around the valley.
A gifted storyteller, steeped in country lore and the beauty of ordinary events. Like Thomas Hardy whose kindred spirit quietly animates these pages, he is concerned with the dignity of work, the force of destiny and the consequences of human passion (New York Times)
Reminiscent of Faulkner and García Márquez, the writing retains a very English scale . Sensitive, heart-warming and hallucinatory (Financial Times)
More perfect than any first novel deserves to be (Observer)
Most beautifully written, hypnotic as Proust, very funny and full of love that doesn’t cloy . A dreamy, easy, wonderful read – and quite remarkable for a first novel (Jane Gardam)
This is it. This is the real thing. This is whatever I mean by the work of a born writer . Comic and wry and elegiac and shrewd and thoughtful all at once. Please read it (A. S. Byatt)
A very English kind of magic (Giles Foden)
Tim Pears’ beautiful first novel brings just a touch of Macondo to rural Devon in the heatwave of 1984 (Salman Rushdie)
Refreshing, even revelatory . A work that is dense with detail and richly evocative . A very impressive performance (Jane Smiley Washington Post)
Highly atmospheric . It had an intoxicating, magical quality which completely beguiled me (Jeremy Paxman)
Engaging, well-written and original (Philip Hensher Guardian)