Friday 26 April 2019

BLOG TOUR: Under the Rock - Benjamin Myers

Carved from the land above Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, Scout Rock is a steep crag overlooking wooded slopes and weed-tangled plateaus. To many it is unremarkable; to others it is a doomed place where 18th-century thieves hid out, where the town tip once sat, and where suicides leapt to their deaths. Its brooding form presided over the early years of Ted Hughes, who called Scout Rock ‘my spiritual midwife . . . both the curtain and backdrop to existence’.

Into this beautiful, dark and complex landscape steps Benjamin Myers, asking: are unremarkable places made remarkable by the minds that map them? Seeking a new life and ­finding solace in nature’s power of renewal, Myers excavates stories both human and elemental. The result is a lyrical and unflinching investigation into nature, literature, history, memory and the meaning of place in modern Britain.

UNDER THE ROCK is about badgers, balsam, history, nettles, mythology, moorlands, mosses, poetry, bats, wild swimming, slugs, recession, ­floods, logging, peacocks, community, apples, asbestos, quarries, geology, industrial music, owls, stone walls, farming, anxiety, relocation, the North, woodpiles, folklore, landslides, ruins, terriers, woodlands, ravens, dales, valleys, walking, animal skulls, trespassing, crows, factories, maps, rain – lots of rain – and a great big rock.

What did I think?

I love dipping into non-fiction now and again to broaden my horizons and increase my knowledge pool, so Under the Rock, encompassing a myriad subjects, sounded so unusual that I had to add it to my reading list.  I usually have a much slower reading pace when I read non-fiction but the writing in Under the Rock is so poetic, mesmerising and compelling that I read it almost as quickly as I would have read a book in the fiction genre.

Funnily enough, if you ask me what the book is about, I'd be hard pushed to tell you.  It's about so many things as Benjamin Myers leaves no stone unturned (no pun intended) in his writing about Yorkshire's Scout Rock.  I admit, when reading the first couple of chapters, that I wasn't really sure that this book would hold my attention but stick in the word 'claggy' which is one of my favourite words and BAM! confirm attention locked in indefinitely.  

I'm a huge tea drinker so I loved the many references to tea; the book is set in Yorkshire after all, which has as many lovers of tea as we have in the North East.  Not to be outdone, Yorkshire have created their very own tea style beverage, the Yorkshire Espresso or Yespresso, that I think even I would find difficult to imbibe.  It's made by twice brewing tea and leaving the teabag in for a couple of hours; it's drunk without milk or sugar and sounds unbelievably bitter.  I'd definitely try one though!

So many parts of the book stood out for me and it's one of those books that is so varied in subject that individual readers will find different parts that resonate with them.  One part that really stood out for me (and this may sound a bit odd) was a story about an old style dustbin.  It takes a very talented writer indeed to turn something so ordinary and mundane into prose so beautiful and engaging that it took my breath away.  I found it so memorable that I actually recounted this story to some friends who asked me what I was reading.

Written in four parts: Wood, Earth, Water and Rock it has field notes containing poems at the end of each part.  I'm not usually a fan of poetry but I found myself looking forward to Benjamin Myers' field notes at the end of each section.  This is another testament to the quality of Benjamin Myers' writing as I never thought I would see the day when I enjoyed reading poetry.

I also have to give a special mention to the amazing cover which looks like a piece of art and it's so eye-catching that it constantly invited me to pick up the book for just one more chapter, thereby smashing my non-fiction reading time record.  With the inimitable Yorkshire spirit woven throughout, coupled with a dash of humour, Under the Rock is as mesmerising as it is informative.  It is a book that is beautiful both inside and out.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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