In Search of Sundance, Nessie...and Paradise by Simon Bennett
|In Search of Sundance, Nessie...and Paradise by Simon Bennett|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A surprisingly charming little book about one family's roam around Scotland following a child's dream of meeting a dolphin, but just generally searching for low-key adventure, family bonding and that greatest of joys: the making of memories. Hopefully it will both provoke some of your own and encourage you to go out and create some more. An unashamedly personal and feel-good book.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 190||Date: December 2016|
What makes a book worth reading? How can you tell if you've read "a good book"? I use the past tense advisedly because (despite what we reviewers and the more highly considered literary critics will tell you) you will only know it's a good book once you have read it. Books are personal. There are three things that signal good books to me: how I feel while reading them and in the enforced spaces between reading them, the degree to which I bore everyone around me for ages afterwards by quoting them and talking about them, and whether I remember how, when and where I first read them. That last criterion can only be judged later, but on the first two In Search of Sundance… definitely qualifies.
By any objective criteria I feel I ought to be disparaging of this book. After all, it is little more than one man's diary of one family holiday – complete with snaps. As his wife says in the forward it wasn't a far-flung destination, it wasn't an extended duration travel, it didn't involve life-changing encounters. It was just an ordinary family hiring a motor-home and heading north for two weeks, with their own motivations. It wasn't even a free-form adventure. It had all been meticulously planned – although we all know how long plans survive. The original quote says something about encounters with the enemy but my experience suggests that the word holiday can easily be substituted at the end there. I've long since figured out that the only Plan B you need is "do something else instead.
So, let's ditch objectivity, and come back to my primary point that books are subjective. Personal. We decide for ourselves what is worth reading and what isn't. We decide the definition of 'worth' and allow it to mean whatever we, Humpty-like, choose it to mean.
And then let me tell you that I enjoyed this immensely. I read it in two sittings – the first two-thirds on a train and the remainder sitting late into the next night to finish it. I loved the simplicity of it, the charm…
I think it helps that – from the limited perspective you get in just reading one take on two weeks – I loved the people. Let me come back to that, but first tell you what it's about.
Emma and Simon have two children, twins Jess and Jake. They also have a dog who travels with them and a cat who gets left behind. They are not rich, nor so far as I can tell, particularly well-connected. They have an extended family and they care about family very much. When the kids were 8 they each got a wild animal for their birthday. A dolphin was adopted for Jess, a polar bear for Jake. Jake is a typical lad – he's into his sport you can never have too many footballs – how he felt about the polar bear is not recorded. Given the ramifications of the dolphin, I reckon he might not be keeping too quiet.
Jess has always been about animals. Now most of us know that when we "adopt" an animal through charity campaigns there is a whole spectrum of what that might actually mean in terms of the reality of an actual animal. At 8 you don't think like that, so for Jess – brilliant present, when can I go meet him?
Naturally that gets the stock answer that parents reserve for such circumstances, but both kids are intelligent and quietly determined when they set their minds to something. When Jake had been told at the age of 6 that they'd think about getting him a dog when he was 8, he waited til his 8th birthday and then asked again. Simon knew Emma was not going to take a fudged answer…he'd have to do some real research and figure out how close they could get to meeting the Dolphin his daughter had named Lucky.
He quickly found it, the dolphin genuinely was a real individual animal and was already called Sundance - going to see him started to take on the semblance of a possibility.
It's two years later when the family finally set off to see if they really can see him in person. They hire a motor home and plan two weeks of adventure hinged on this one hope.
Then it really is a very simple what we did on our holidays… kind of a write up, full of the banality of what they ate, and how to dry the wet suits.
So where's the charm?
For me it's about the way these guys are raising their kids and the way those kids are responding to it. We hear so much today about children growing up too soon and/or spending all of their time in front of their computers…and we need reminding that it isn't the total picture. I have no idea whether J&J have iPhones and spend hours on Facebook or whatever the latest equivalent is…and it won't matter if they do…because I do know that at the age of ten they were active, imaginative, creative, willing to play along with myths and legends which they may or may not have still believed in. They fed a monster and took a dog kayaking. They took great joy in a family camping holiday where the idea of luxury was the best loo in the world or fish and chips on a harbour wall. That will never leave them and will become intrinsic to the adults they grow into.
I love that, because I remember it. I remember how stressful 'packing to go on holiday' can be.
I remember how unbearably beautiful Scotland is.
We didn't have a motor home – we had a tent. But some of our manoeuvres with the Mini and the trailer (roof racks on both) would compete with some of their slightly scary episodes. I didn't get to wild camp until I was older, but memories of that are also engrained, I can't imagine how I'd have revelled in it had I done it at the age of 10. I recognised many of the places they visited and envied them the ones I haven't been to (yet). I loved all of the memories this brought back with such a sharp sparkling hit: camp sites and wild swimming rather than kayaking, dark skies, empty roads. Conversation. Early nights and empty days.
I love the fact that there are still people (parents and children) who still 'get it'.
I love the fact that in forty years' time they will still be using the expression "shut the fridge up!" – and while it won't be funny to anyone but them, it will still make them smile.
I loved some of the solitary people they met and have echoes of kinship with them.
I salute their spending money in local shops…buying things just because they are pleased by them. And I relate to the sadness of the end of a trip. They have a family motto hanging up in their house which says something like "don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I like that. But far more I like the attitude to life that they sum up at the beginning: "Sod it. Let's go for it, enjoy it, and live on the memories – and beans on toast for a month.
That's getting your priorities right. Maybe that's what I loved most about this. Of course I wanted to know if they managed to meet Sundance, or Nessie… but I knew very quickly that they'd find paradise, because they're among those that would recognise it when they did. Too many these days don't – and it doesn't hurt the rest of us to be reminded just how much of it we have also tasted. It's simply written and that is the only way that would work.
There's a few lovely arty shots among the family photos – but they're not the point. Don't look at the pictures, read the words and soak up the philosophy.
Sadly the current pricing indicated by Amazon suggests that the electronic edition is the only realistic way of getting hold of this one. That's a bit of shame, it's the kind of book I'd want to be able to stuff in my rucksack and not worry about leaving behind in a youth hostel somewhere.
If you're thinking of taking your own weans north of the border you might like to take along Breaking the Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland by Lari Don and Cate James or for the adults Corrag by Susan Fletcher will give you a fictionalised taste of some of the history.
You can read more book reviews or buy In Search of Sundance, Nessie...and Paradise by Simon Bennett at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy In Search of Sundance, Nessie...and Paradise by Simon Bennett at Amazon.com.
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