Most likely your unremarkable life is full of the remarkable.
First Published: 4th February 2010
Date Reviewed: 1st November 2010
In 1672, Jonathan Dymond’s routine – living with his parents, making cider for the neighbours in autumn – comes to a halt upon the death of his uncle Robin. His father is upset that he didn’t make it to the deathbed in time and Jonathan is harrowed by a dream in which the ghost of his uncle accosts him along the road. Jonathan wants answers and it just so happens that, his aunt having an orchard herself, she might have a place for him; he goes under the guise of cider maker. There’s a strange servant at aunt Harriet’s, a girl who is very forward. And then one day she disappears. Something’s up, and it’s more than simply his father’s upset and his aunt’s formidability. Jonathan’s found a mystery to solve and by God will he solve it, no matter what happens to him.
When I picked up The Wilding I was expecting a story that would trundle along like a wooden cart, and for the most part this is indeed what happens. What is so unique about the book is that McCann involves a mystery to solve but doesn’t make it all that compelling until later on, instead she focuses more on life at the time and social issues. This may sound off-putting but it enables the story to rest gently over a number of genres and thus exhibit appeal to readers of many persuasions.
For the characters, The Wilding is unlike any other story I’ve ever read of this time period. There are differences in class and wealth but there are no extreme riches, or poverty without any sort of redemption. Everything happens within a radius of several miles and most journeys are made for cider.
“I marvelled at the shamelessness with which she turned thanks inside out. She was not a vagrant for nothing: here was one who could beg an apple peel and end by carrying away the tree.”
Tamar is a wonderful character. She has been so well created and written by McCann that she is real beyond any other character I have come across. For the first time in my life (that I can remember) I have been able to form a character head to toe in my imagination without resorting to an actress or someone from my own life. My Tamar is true flesh and blood, a real person with movable features, except that she resides solely in my head. And yet McCann’s writing doesn’t seem, when you’re reading it, to possess any special quality – but my inability to create a face has waned, at least for now. I may see Jonathan as a faceless narrator (which is the usual way I see characters) and Aunt Harriet as Pam Ferris (a result, I believe, of having watched the TV adaptation of Jane Eyre recently) But I’m glad to have one fully-fledged character in my head at last.
And the best bit of that? My Tamar has not in any way been influenced by the girl on the book’s cover. Except for the red hair, of course.
To move away from my cooing, Jonathan Dymond, the narrator, has been perfectly created – being not so much the subject but certainly the reason, he is provided with a lot of emotion and is always rethinking issues while allowing the focus to be on the other characters. He’s an average working class citizen of the day, with a very interesting family.
McCann deals with a number of issues that have eternal relevance; these she discusses quickly and skilfully. As an example, she touches on prostitution, saying that being with so many men for such a reason as money a woman can become deadened to emotions during sex and unconcerned about the man afterward. This may sound bad, but it’s something that the narrator must talk about during the book and you have remember that the woman in question is young and ignorant in ways.
The text is mainly modern but McCann sometimes writes in the way people of the time would’ve spoken. The modern language, made more realistic by the social standing of the characters makes the narrative easy to follow. One of the initial secrets is no hardship to work out dozens of pages before it’s revealed, but this was quite possibly something McCann meant to happen for reasons that you will understand when you read it.
As the book revolves around a family, the emphasis is on them and their daily lives rather than any key moments in history. A few events, and some fictional yet all too possible ideas, are looked into but briefly. This isn’t a book for learning about the period so much as a book for those who want to live it themselves.
Because on the face of it, McCann’s writing is nothing special, I’m wondering if she enlisted Joan’s help in making it come across as enthralling. If nothing else she definitely stole an amulet from the thorns at the front of the cave. The Wilding will let you breathe for a long time before it takes your breath away. But once it does, you might not get it back.
November 4, 2010, 9:14 pm
I bought this book a few weeks ago but haven’t started it yet. I’m really looking forward to reading it after seeing how much you liked it! I wonder if I’ll be able to form an image of Tamar too.
Charlie: I’d say it’s one of the best of 2010 I’ve read so far. Hope you enjoy it!
November 5, 2010, 4:19 pm
I tend to see faceless characters too! Places and settings and such are easy for me, but faces are not.
You have made this book sound fantastic! I like that the mystery doesn’t come until later and that the text is modern. But where you got me is when you said, “This isn’t a book for learning about the period so much as a book for those who want to live it themselves.” Ooh!
Charlie: Everyone I’ve spoken to says they have no problem, so I’m glad to hear there’s someone else like me!
Yeah, the story allows you to get to know the characters before all the issues come out so you can really understand how it feels for them. Living it wise, it’s kind of like Elizabeth Chadwick’s work (though admittedly I’ve only read one) where she goes into detail about markets and the like, though there aren’t really any markets in The Wilding.
November 9, 2010, 2:59 am
I tried to get a copy of this and discovered it doesn’t seem to have been published on my side of the Atlantic! Boo! Maybe it will be. I’ll keep it on my list.
November 10, 2010, 8:18 pm
thanks! for sharing this.
November 12, 2010, 10:36 am
[…] This isn’t a book for learning about the period so much as a book for those who want to live it themselves. The Worm Hole […]
November 13, 2010, 5:34 pm
That last paragraph is high praise! I wonder if I would love it as much as you do, but I admit I am curious..
Charlie: I’ve read a few negative reviews since reading so I’d say be cautious.