Once Upon a Time in the West… Country by Tony Hawks
|Once Upon a Time in the West… Country by Tony Hawks|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The disappointment in most of what accompanies the welcome humour here can be summed up with a direct quote:- Easy had never been something I'd sought out. Easy, I'd found, often went hand in hand with a bit dull.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 368||Date: March 2016|
|Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks|
|External links: Author's website|
I have often complained in a jokey voice to my partner about life in the sticks, and the way she moved me from an inner-city flat to slumming it in the suburbs with fewer busses, no takeaways within walking-and-keeping-food-hot distance, and no 'Polish' shops for a can of beer whenever you fancy one. Things are different with Tony Hawks, as here he has purposefully decided to up sticks from London to Somewhere, Devon – a tiny village where the people who built their own homes decades ago still live in them, where slugs are a lot more of a problem for the wannabe lettuce-grower than they are for the metropolitan commuter, and where village halls have the power to turn you into both a Pol Pot dictator if you get on their committee and into a quivering, bruise-inducing wreck if you're the wrong gender at a Zumba class…
It's a little bit of a pity that this is not the first time Mr Hawks has struck out thusly, and presented us with a Peter Mayle-type, ignorant-abroad-in-rural-idyll style book. Last time he had the gumption to actually be abroad, but here he's in a world where he doesn't need to translate. He seems to be able to use the Internet (although the erratic one bar phone signal is a problem), he doesn't need to sign any Spanish forms over to gain occupancy and to do so at the perfect alignment of bureaucracy, and he has friendly neighbours. Heck, they even indulge him massively – one chap in particular, moving his grand piano with him, geeing him up in inventing an infinity exercise swimming device with the help of a cheaply-bought inflatable pool… But in the house things change, and I don't just mean the many different activities Hawks and his charming-sounding wife get up to.
And part of that change, flagged up by discussing a misquote of Gandhi's early on, is probably one of the biggest problems with the book for me, and there are many. Early on he baulks at the idea of the consumerist world, while not seeing the problem of discussing this on the same sheet of paper as mentioning his 24-hour journeys to and from remote South America to convert him into being green. A lot of the move, whether stated here or not, is down to Hawks seemingly having a mid-life crisis of conscience, and getting on a green hobby-horse. And he lets us know it. There is a hectoring that does, in my mind, legitimately allow anyone to respond to this book with the retort that if consumerism is so bad, it will stay on the shelves.
And there are other reasons for it to be considered behind many other titles, principally of which is that it is not what we expect of a Tony Hawks book. This is him reverting from the heights of walking round Ireland with a fridge, and his early challenge books, to just pretending life itself is a challenge. If the writing did not, with just about the required regularity, flare out into observational comedy with some great wit and punchlines, I would have hated this book. To say that life is a challenge with the instances of a village hall meeting, an unexpectedly programmed spa bath and dining alone alongside Xmas partygoers, is not original enough, and definitely fits into the First World Problem category. Yes, I guess there are not many books that cover the minutiae of such provinciality as the village fete in such a manner, but there is also too much of the personal here that is not extraordinary enough; the mundane turned into mediocre writing.
I did so want to enjoy this. I was 'with' Tony Hawks as a fan long before his first book, and heck he's signed his appreciation of me wearing a Moldovan T-shirt (for obvious reasons) when I've met him. He always struck me as being inherently charming and witty, which – to repeat – this book can easily be. Certainly when it breaks into being about a quest – a bike ride across Devon with a suitable difference – it's dully presented in real-time detail. The rest is also completely cloying, and cosy, and pandering to a sensibility I didn't expect was in him. Whether that change is the cause or the effect of the move down to Devon, it's not a welcome one.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
If this book appeals then you might enjoy Bamboo Goalposts by Rowan Simons.
You could get a free audio download of Once Upon a Time in the West… Country by Tony Hawks with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Once Upon a Time in the West… Country by Tony Hawks at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Once Upon a Time in the West… Country by Tony Hawks at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.