The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Tinkers by Paul Harding

I saw this one in Waterstones and it caught my interest. It has since been chosen as one of our set books for this years Novel Holiday in August.

George is dying, ill and bedridden, he starts to hallucinate, about the clocks that were his job, their intricate mechanisms, and also about his father, a salesman who peddled his wares in the poverty ridden backwoods of Maine in 1927, as well as battling with epilepsy and griefs about his own father.

This book drifts between memories, some lucid, some hazy. There are stories about things that happened as well as lengthy descriptions about the countryside and the beauty of nature. There are also heightened descriptions of epileptic fits coming on, how clocks work and what George can see and make sense of from his death bed.

Some passages in this book are a pure joy, lovely to read, and rich with story and detail. There was one particular passage recounting an old hermit who lived in the woods that I had to read again immediately because it moved me to laugh and cry. There are other passages that are dense and need concentration, but you are rewarded most of the time with literature that is exciting, involving and beautiful. There are also however places where it was difficult to keep up with what was being relayed, and about whom. While this emphasised the main characters loss of grip on reality, I felt I had also missed out on its meaning.

I found the ending moving, as Georges reality slips into unconsciousness, and elements of the book are successfully brought together. There is little straightforward narrative, the passages jump about and some offer little clue or continuation. This can enrich or baffle in turn. The parts describing Georges father on his cart full of household wares, trading in the woods were the most lucid, and also the most memorable. I also loved the passages about clocks, told with a craftsmans respect and love for his art.

This book will not appeal to those who like straightforward prose, but if you enjoy dense literature, where you need to stop every few pages to take it in, then you will find this a very rewarding read.

I really enjoyed it on the whole, mainly for being about a particular view of American history, and its unusual descriptive style for the genre.

A good one for reading groups with lots to discuss. For discussion questions about Tinkers use the link.

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Hay on Wye

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