I haven’t had a chance to read for a few weeks, so a walking holiday in Cornwall at the end of June provided an excellent opportunity to get stuck into some good books. It seemed like the perfect time to continue my previous Cornwall reading (see my blogs on Daphne du Maurier, Poldark, Rising Ground and Coming Home).
Following on from reading the excellent The Salt Path by Raynor Winn a few months ago, I wanted to read the poet Simon Armitage’s book about walking the South West Coastal Path, not least because Raynor’s husband was frequently mistaken for Armitage on their walk, as they were walking the same section of the path at the same time. Walking Away by Simon Armitage certainly didn’t disappoint. Reading a book about landscape by a poet was always going to be a pleasure, and knowing some of the sections of the path he was walking, having walked them myself with my dog Drake last September, made it all the more enjoyable. Armitage makes his way from Minehead in Somerset, through Devon and into Cornwall, giving poetry readings along the way and staying with some interesting characters. He captures the majesty of foggy and windswept clifftops, as well as the intense heat of walking in such an exposed landscape in the blazing sunshine. It also gave me a tantalising glimpse of the stretch of the north Cornwall path that I haven’t done yet, south of Padstow.
Continuing the Cornwall theme, I read The Sing of the Shore by Lucy Wood, another lyrical and haunting book that uses language beautifully to tell a story of a hidden Cornwall. I don’t normal like short stories, but I hugely enjoyed these. They share the reality of living permanently in the beautiful Cornish coastal villages and towns that tourists like me descend upon in summer. A man addicted to surfing, who lives for catching the right kind of wave, with his marriage, children and work following in the wake of the surf. A homeless family shunted from place to place, living one minute in a lovely empty rental property and the next off season in freezing static caravans. Teenagers braking into empty holiday properties to play at the lives of the rich who rent them. Parents stuck at home with young babies, elderly neighbours at war, and living in the shadow of the enormous government listening station GCHQ Bude, which I walked past the day I was reading this. An eerie place of huge satellite dishes that was key to the Edward Snowden revelations.
I then broke out of Cornwall reading for a bit of detective work and read the new crime fiction novel by one of my favourite authors Kate Atkinson (see my previous blogs on Kate Atkinson). Big Sky picks up former copper Jackson Brodie, living on the coast of the north-east of England, acting as a private detective and becoming involved in the murder of a middle-aged woman, a man trying to throw himself off the cliffs and an extensive people trafficking operation. Seedy caravans, golf courses, empty closed-down care homes, B&Bs adorned with seashells and swanky clifftop houses of local criminals are the settings for this story, as the lives of the protagonists unravel and Jackson gets ever closer to finding out what is really going on. Once sentence in the book stood out so much for me that I had to highlight it on my Kindle: ‘National Trust members mostly. Middle class, middle income – the frail and overburdened backbone of England. The kind of people who owned Labradors and listened to The Archers and couldn’t abide reality TV. Me, Jackson thought’. Or me.