Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Duncton Wood - William Horwood (Country Life Books, 1980)

I've not been reading as much as usual recently, due to finishing off some Obverse stuff and doing abut a thousand pages of typesetting for a very nice mate of Johnny's but I did manage to read a couple of things, even if more slowly than usual.

Duncton Wood is a book I well remember coming out and about which I was a little scathing at the time.  Just another Watership Down rip-off, I believe I said  - and there's some truth in that accusation, but only in the sense that any novel with anthropomorphic animals set in the English countryside and in which humanity plays only a tangential role is published in the long shadow of Richard Adam's masterpiece.  But Duncton Wood is more than just a re-tread of old ground, and its influences are wider too.  Fittingly for the author of several splendid sequels to Wind in the Willows, this book - like them - is tinged throughout by a form of mystical, pagan religion as well as being a love story, an action adventure novel and treatise on the common mole.

Cover of the 1st UK editionThe writing is a pleasure to read and the author is not afraid to face the 'realities' of life for a small country mammal like a mole, with beloved characters being killed off with little emotion but a great deal of effectiveness. If certain elements of the ending seem a little contrived and designed more to provide a false sense of completeness than anything else, well I can forgive the author those small mis-steps.

I sort of wish I had read this when I was 11 - I think I would have liked it.

I also read Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish which failed, unlike Duncton Wood, to step out of the shadow of more illustrious antecedents like Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale.  Shubin's scope is far smaller than Dawkins', but even so this discussion of the evolution of man felt slight and the examples used - while interesting - repetitive and over-played.

I also read Nick Campbell's fabulous Doctor Who Meets Scratchman and Jon Arnold and dead Baxter's Shooty Dog Thing 2 to review, but they deserve more than a quickly knocked off paragraph or two...

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