There’s nothing like a beautifully written but ultimately sorta forgettable story to make me think about the books that are “me” versus the kind that somehow miss the mark, although they are undeniably good.
Landed’s premise is powerful enough – middle-aged Owen deals (badly – by kidnapping his two kids and running off on a dangerous open-air camping trip) with the aftermath of a car accident which kills his daughter and leaves him minus a right hand. There’s no question that Tim Pears can write. His prose is poetic but never comes off fake or contrived. Thankfully, his style alone was captivating enough to keep me interested.
Because somehow the story itself didn’t come together for me, which I think I can blame on the uneven plot and structure. Its potential was watered down with some stylistic hiccups that I just couldn’t get past. The back-story takes up a full half of the book, but the real plot just doesn’t pack enough of a payload to make it all worth it.
The book begins with an official collision investigator’s report. Then there’s a long flashback detailing Owen’s childhood trips to the countryside near Welshpool (and this aside is in turn interrupted by a presentation from an occupational therapist about Owen’s phantom limb pain). The pace picks up with a section narrated by Owen’s estranged wife, which is finally followed by the “true” story, the fateful kidnapping romp, which moves in a meandering, dreamlike fashion not suited to the second half of a book.
I actually fell in love with the section dedicated to young Owen’s formative experiences in the countryside. I don’t always go for description-heavy passages, but reading about this quiet boy obsessively tracking a family of badgers and trying to keep them secret from his unsentimental grandfather struck more of an emotional chord with me than the later sections between him and his kids – which I suspect were supposed to have me shedding a tear or two.
Although I’m making this story sound slow, that’s not to say I had to slog through it (if that were the case, I wouldn’t be saying I enjoyed it at all – a truly slow story is like my reading kryponite). But when it was over I felt like, “what just happened?” – not because my mind was blown, but because I thought surely, after all that, it was going somewhere else.