Ulverton by Adam Thorpe

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Ulverton by Adam Thorpe

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sharon Hall
Reviewed by Sharon Hall
Summary: Twelve short-stories about people associated with the fictional village of Ulverton produce a book about the ways in which people live with, on and in the landscape. It is about how people leave their mark through the most subtle of ways and it is deeply affecting. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: May 1993
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0749397043

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On first reading it in the early 1990s, Adam Thorpe's Ulverton quickly established itself in my top ten books of all time. Re-reading it has not budged that opinion one iota. In fact, I think I engaged even more with it this time.

Describing the structure and basic premise of the book gives little away: twelve short-stories about people associated with the fictional village of Ulverton, set in East Anglia, and ranging from the 17th century to the 1980s. Each story has its own style such as a diary format, letters, descriptions of photographs and a TV script. Some characters weave in and out and others are contained within the individual stories, but the narratives are linked as they all focus on the largely unrecorded history of the village and its inhabitants.

One story, set in 1775, takes the form of letters being written by John Pounds, a tailor, on behalf of the illiterate Sara Shail to her son Francis. Sara is living in Ulverton; Francis is in prison, accused of theft and awaiting hanging. She is struggling to find the money to attend the hanging as she is suffering from breast cancer and believes that the touch of her dead son’s hand will cure her. We understand that Francis becomes more and more demanding (although his replies are not included) and Pounds starts to add some rather barbed comments of his own. Francis is eventually pardoned and it is left to he reader to ponder quite what may happen next.

I particularly enjoyed the 1943 story which takes the form of the diary of Violet Nightingale, who is acting as secretary to Ulverton based artist Herbert Bradman. He is planning to bury a collection of 20th century artefacts (together with, rather pompously, some of his own writings) for the benefit of future archaeologists. Violet is encouraged to write her own account of the project and also falls for Herbert, but comes to realise how unimportant she is to him. Hell hath no fury …

Ulverton is a book you have to work at, as the stories are written in the style and with the language of the time in which they are set. I found it useful to read some of the stories aloud because of this. However, it is so worth persevering with, as you become drawn into these very individual voices as they recount their experiences. It is an absolute joy when you make the connections between characters and events and realize how peoples’ perceptions of history alter over time. It has the feel of real historical accounts, laid out for you to piece together yourself.

The book is about the ways in which people live with, on and in the landscape. It is about how people leave their mark through the most subtle of ways and it is deeply affecting. After reading this, you will never look at a place name, a road name, a footpath or the rural landscape, or read an historical account in quite the same way.

If you enjoy this type of book then we think that you might also enjoy Jim Crace's poetic book The Pesthouse.

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Buy Ulverton by Adam Thorpe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ulverton by Adam Thorpe at Amazon.com.



Marie Meakings said:

Hi Bookbag – Ulverton was recommended to me – with caveats – at a recent book group meeting, and I have recently ordered and received my copy. Imagine my delight at seeing this review, which very much stoked my enthusiasm for starting the read. I am currently reading One Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (also a book group tome) and am now enthusiastically looking forward to starting Ulverton once this book is finished (although I am quietly enjoying this too). I thought your reviewer laid a trail of intrigue for the reader to follow, and managed to convey the essence of the book without giving away any integral plot lines. His/her breakdown of the individual storyline concept was concise yet intriguing and the enthusiasm for the book was palpable. More from this reviewer please.

Regards

Marie Meakings


Leslie Buck said:

Ulverton is supposedly in Wessex (more precisely, Berkshire) not East Anglia.