30 May Villager by Tom Cox
Discover a deliciously dark side of Dartmoor
The village of Underhill in Dartmoor has been home to a myriad of different folk. There’s Phil Spring at the garage; Jim Swardley at the post office; Joyce, a talented landscape artist; Hungarian Reka, destined to become a famous folk singer; Pat, a pensioner with a past; William Millhouse, whose father was the local gravedigger …
And then there is the narrator of this story, a sardonic, cynical, witty observer of the minutiae of village life, recalling and recording all the threads that draw this story together as it toggles between past, present and future.
Who is he? Though he seems to hold human attributes, he tells us himself that he is not the Cerne Abbas Giant. Is he the landscape itself, without which the village could not exist?
Whatever, he is the lynchpin holding the seemingly random threads of the story together.
So what is it about? I must admit at times I struggled to understand as each chapter took me to different characters and to different time frames.
There’s art, there is music, there is folklore, there is a body, at one point, that has a profound effect on two teenage boys.
So in the end, I took from it the sheer enjoyment of a beautifully written, witty and compassionate observation of humanity in all its strength and weakness, glory and pettiness, cruelty and kindness, greed and generosity.
My favourite chapter was Message Board 2012 which gives us a humorous string of WhatsApp messages from a random collection of visitors about such banalities as ducks, oil drums and bake sales. We’d all recognise something of ourselves in the exchanges!
Each chapter was almost like reading a short story, and I have to confess I did find some of them long and confusing. But then I’d turn the page to be delighted by a quirky bit of humour or a keen observation from the eponymous Villager.
As Bea, one of the future inhabitants reminds us in 2099, the village can always surprise you, and so can Villager in its breadth of keen observation of people, and obvious love of the land.
The prose is richly descriptive. It builds us a picture in words of Dartmoor in all its raw and natural beauty as vivid and enriching as any that artist Joyce might have painted; it enchants us with a rhythm that Reka might have written.
Finally, it gives us a story that is different to the kind of linear narratives we normally expect from novels.
Fans of writers like David Mitchell are going to love this book.
About the Author
Tom Cox lives in Devon. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, the Bad and the Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia. 21st-Century Yokel was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and the titular story of Help the Witch won a Shirley Jackson Award.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blogtour and to Unbound for an advance copy of the book.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour at the links on the poster