Review 1709: The Redeemed

The third book of Pears’ West Country Trilogy and the book I read for my Walter Scott Prize project, The Redeemed begins in 1916. Leo Sercombe, now about 16, joined the Royal Navy at the beginning of the war as a boy seaman. In a battle, his ship, the Queen Mary, is sunk, and he is one of only 20 crew members rescued.

His father’s former employer’s daughter Lottie begins training as a veterinarian with Mr. Jago. He believes that soon the veterinarian college will be opened to women and she will be the first graduate.

The novel works slowly toward the reunion of its two main characters. There is one incident where this reunion is delayed because of a misunderstanding. It’s the type of plot device used frequently in movies, where the problem could be solved in a few words, and I think using it was a bit lazy.

Although Pears continues with his spare, understated writing style that is so eloquent, I found after a while that his minute descriptions of work, whether it be birthing a foal or floating a sunken ship, were losing my attention. Finally, the long-awaited reunion seemed somewhat anticlimactic. Pears’ style is very detached, maybe too much so. Although I was always interested in what happened to the characters, I probably could have been more so. Of the trilogy, I think the first book was the strongest.

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Review 1701: The Wanderers

The Wanderers is the second book in Pears’ West Country Trilogy. After the startling events at the end of The Horseman, 13-year-old Leo Sercombe is on his own. Almost starving, he is rescued by gypsies. Thus begins a wandering life.

Lottie lives an odd life on her father’s estate. She is angry with him because of his treatment of the Sercombes, so she keeps very much to herself. Reluctantly, she engages with society, but she is most interested in studying biology.

Like most middle books, The Wanderers seems a little unfocused because it can’t by definition have a climax. It is interesting enough and devotes the same kind of minute observation as in the first book to such subjects as castrating sheep.

We are obviously working toward the First World War and presumably some kind of reunion for Leo and Lottie as the class gulf between them broadens. And yet, of course, it will soon narrow again.

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Review 1692: The Horseman

I was in the midst of putting a hold on Tim Pears’ The Redeemed to read for my Walter Scott prize project when I noticed that it was the third in his West Country Trilogy. The prize judges have an annoying habit of picking books for their shortlist that are well into a series, and I have paid the price before of trying to read just the nominated book, which you would assume would stand on its own. But sometimes not, so I went ahead and got the first two books of the trilogy as well. The Horseman is the first.

It is 1911. Leo Sercombe is the son of a carter on Lord Prideaux’s country estate in Western England. Leo is twelve and speaks seldom, but he has a strong love for and interest in horses. He frequently slacks off from school to help work on the various farms that make up the estate, and he is beginning to attract the attention of the estate’s head groom for his talent with horses.

Sharing his love of horses is the lord’s twelve-year-old daughter, Lottie, whom Leo occasionally encounters.

The novel minutely observes everyday life in an early 20th century rural setting, particularly the work. Although it is occasionally lyrical, the writing is mostly spare. I wasn’t sure how much I was enjoying it but somehow kept reading, even though terminology and process sometimes escaped me. I was actually intending to read a completely different book next, as I often do with series, but the ending, which is sudden and unexpected, made me want to read the next book immediately. If it’s a fast-paced novel you are looking for, this one is not for you, as it is more concerned with detail.

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