Wednesday, April 22, 2009

the last book I read

The Levels by Peter Benson.

We're in the Somerset Levels, somewhere near the real locations of Isle Abbots and the wonderfully named Curry Mallet, though the settlement of Blackwood where the protagonist and his parents live appears to be fictional. Anyway, Billy is sixteen and lives with his parents on a small farm; his father is a master willow basketmaker and Billy is learning the trade from him.

One day bohemian arty painter type Anne and her teenage daughter Muriel move into the long-empty Drove House near where Billy lives; inevitably Billy and Muriel strike up a friendship that develops into a fledgling relationship, cherries are popped, hearts are broken, various conflicts are played out - town versus country, spontaneity and social mobility versus tradition and duty - until the inevitable moment arrives and Muriel heads off to college in London leaving Billy to his rustic basketry.

It's pretty slight and fairly short (172 pages) but quite charming in its own way. It's a sort of shorter, less complex son of Graham Swift's mighty Waterland with a touch of Cider With Rosie thrown in. It strikes me as quite similar to Tim Pears' excellent In The Place Of Fallen Leaves as well, although that's a longer book and the central protagonist is female.

I'm compelled to note that this won a few literary prizes as well - I really don't select books on this basis, honestly, in fact I bought this one in the wonderful Amnesty bookshop in Bristol for one solitary pound solely on the basis that it was set somewhere nearby. Nonetheless here's the book award data you'll have been wanting:

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