Paradise almost lost – Saved through the magic of otters, perhaps?
Like the otters, Batch Magna makes a comeback-to a future just like the past, without the pollution, preserving all those delights of simple rural life on a river; with the abundant flora and fauna, for which there are no substitutes in “modern” life. Planned developments, apartment complexes: the very words are anathema to Batch Magna.
This is a conservationist story, so enchantingly and poetically told that the prose sings like the owls, larks, and rooks (and cuckoos). But it is not about environmental regulations – it is about a way of living. It is about a love of paddle steamers, barges, otters and all God’s creatures great and small, and of Bill Sikes. The joy of this book for this reader, apart from the cadences and diversity of the language, was the peek into the hills and verges of the Welsh Marches, under the leaves, into the water of the borderlands between Wales and England, or is it England and Wales? Neither here nor there.
“Out of sight above the open fields, larks sang, their darting notes endlessly threading the air. Since she was [a] child Ffion had thought of that sound as a sort of conjuring trick, a trick of delight, their song somehow becoming one in her young imagination with a large glitter ball at her first circus, kept magically in the air, its hundreds of spinning, fragmented mirrors catching the light.”
Around every tree, the past meets the present:
“And our William’s over the other side, a younger brother of mine. Turned his tractor over up on the hills there, with him half under it. Took him hours to die, they reckon, and nobody to hear his cries but the sheep,” the old man said, his voice like a mournful wind. “Crows had his eyes in the end. And John Hodges down there.” He indicated a row of graves further down that side against the boundary wall. “Went to school with him, old John. Dropped down dead only a couple of weeks back, he did. In his hen house, on his way in with his breakfast.”
“The future in a hurry, that’s what had just roared up the High Street. Progress and modernisation, the rallying cry of the new Batch Magna. And where the American led, Mr. Pugh would not be far behind. After Sir Humphrey’s successful planning application, Mr. Pugh’s proposed extension of the shop into the back garden would, he’d been assured, be deemed complementary and necessary. It was, as he had learned to say, in the bag.”
Tradition vies with modernity:
“So nothing, in fact, will change. Is that right?” he said slowly, still in the grip of everything suddenly changing. “Nothing will change,” Humphrey assured him. Well, almost nothing, he thought, thinking of the visit he had yet to make.”
“The cricket field and pavilion behind the churchyard, and the great, immemorial yew, the centuries in its vast girth corseted with rusting iron bands, shading a church which bore in its nave the marks of Norman chisels, and among its gravestones a sundial which told the time in Jerusalem.”
Several reviewers have compared Maughan’s writing with others such as:
Erica James, Marcia Willett and Rebecca Shaw, M.C. Beaton, Kingsley Amis. This reviewer says it is incomparably wonderful writing which made her think of Laurence Sterne (in terms of humor and “Learned Wit”) and Thomas Hardy (in terms of class consciousness and social constraints that cripple lives). The conspiratorial villagers evoke the gentle humor of ‘Waking Ned,’ too.
Other reviewers have told you about the cast of characters, deftly brought to life by Maughan in word pictures such that one can see them clearly in the mind’s eye(the eyeball that is not painted with the Union Jack), all the more lovable for their foibles.
“Turtle doves in the hawthorns on Snails Eye Island called, endlessly, into it, and the weeping willows were drenched with summer, trailing their branches in the water-lilies and sweetgrass, and their own reflection.”
Snails Eye Island – that is where you should spend your next wee while. Learn some Welsh words and phrases. Buy ‘The Cuckoos of Batch Magna’ forthwith or at least sometime soon!
Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.