West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss by Jim Perrin

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West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss by Jim Perrin

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not for everyone, but this book shows our writer coming through grief from close deaths, and finding life in every small detail of his world travelling Wales.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 336 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1843546115

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Where would you go if the love of your life, and your son, both died within a short few months of each other? Jim Perrin headed West - to the scraggly patches of land off Ireland, closer to the setting sun, nearer to the further horizon, beyond the noise, information and opinion of humanity. Of course, that question could also be answered in a more metaphoric way. Jim went inward, before coming outward. He suffered - involuntarily, the tears have come. Who would have thought that death would release so many.. He also, although he would probably hate me for saying it, went on a "psycho-geographical ramble" - both in life, and in making this book.

Jim on this evidence is an extraordinary writer. He is one of those rare fellows, like a W G Sebald (who he mentions several times), who can dip into and out of any one of a number of erudite fields, offer a quote here, an anecdote there, an experienced occurrence ad infinitum. He manages a career or two, a family life (or at least he did until the deaths concerned with here), and can still manage to read copiously, and remember enough quotes etc to pepper his pages with literary references - in Welsh, English and more languages.

This book swills languidly around its subject, taking us through the history of Jim's life with his beloved Jaq. Lovers a long time ago, who separated and went their different ways before rejoining in loving harmony decades later, they shared an idyllic life of low-key travel, pottering about the Welsh hills and mountains, observing their surrounding nature in utmost detail - and of course never being stumped for the species of bird skirling above, or the flower providing a scent to their tented night-times. There's the lowest, most limpid level of hedonism on one trip, where they gazed at the close textures of landscape for the umpteenth time, then the most pathetic fall, which shows how little time they have left, for Jaq is dying.

And what didn't help that was the time a few months prior, when Jim's son Will, a consummate mountaineer, nature-lover and all round solid, lovable young man, killed himself. There's a suitably strong contrast here, too - Jim's own experience as a climber allows him and us insight into the gains of risking all on the cliffs and peaks, and how the joy of survival can imbue life - and then Will is choosing not to continue that life.

This is still not a maudlin, morbid book. Autobiography is definitely only one of its genres, for it also covers copious observations, nature notes, field guides. Perrin is more intimate with the rural Wales than anyone else you will ever have read, and conveys the journeys he made before, during and after Jaq. Similarly, trips abroad, either with her or for journalism's sake, make their appearance.

There is also a welter of philosophy. In returning to a corner of Wales to settle with Jaq, he finds that he needed that grounding-place, that home, in order to leave it arm in arm with her. It's a moving, interesting thing to think - companionship and home fit together, and time had to conspire for both to work out. You might disagree - I for one prefer my life to be too busy to sit and hear such cogitations in my mind. Perrin is many things, but cosmopolitan is not one of them. And come the next page, there he is, spouting Chateaubriand at us.

This is evidence this book will by no means be for all. I can handle erudition, the more poetic form of memoir, the author's life choices coming through all his knowledge, quotes and references. But just as we distinguish popular from literary fiction, this should be distinguished as literary autobiography. This is then a review where the star rating can be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Add marks if you think you know Wales as well as Perrin - add copious scores if you know Perrin himself. Take some off if you will find the grounding of so much of the book in recounting lovely lives of life down-graded by the hurt, pain and grief the deaths here caused, for all those emotions will come off the page.

That is the problem with such a personal book - the response will be completely personal too. For what it's worth I don't get as much out of these thoroughly artistic and dreamy books, however laudable, as many. So I shall not be able to give a pithy summary, and expect it to be in tune with others people might make when they finally close this volume - except to note it's such a rich book it's hard to make a summary of at all.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a slightly similar travelogue, we recommend The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy by Rachel Cusk. For those interested in Wales, different corners of it are reached in Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams.

Buy West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss by Jim Perrin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss by Jim Perrin at Amazon.co.uk

Buy West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss by Jim Perrin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss by Jim Perrin at Amazon.com.


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