Thursday, 7 December 2017

'Devil's Day' by Andrew Michael Hurley


At first, this disappointed. It was not what I thought it would be. For once, or so I believed, the label, or in this case dust cover, did not reveal the content. I persisted. Any book once purchased should be worked at. This doesn't mean you will like it any more or any less but at least give it a chance. The one exception was Paul Kingsnorth 'The Wake.' I really did my best as it came so highly recommended, even being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Nothing wrong with the novel. It just wasn't to my particular taste. I was concerned that the same would be true of 'Devil's Day.' 

The whole fabric of the narrative depends upon and is defined by the landscape, the language, the character of those individuals who inhabit its telling. It is rather like watching a tapestry in all the stages of its creation. Blades of grass, dew drops on their tips, worms riddling the soil with their burrowings, moles too, hawks and crows, crisscrossing the solemn sky set beneath a sullen sun., all add to the story. The flavour and colour are exhaustively honed if not with colours or tastes but words. 

As a generalisation, American's often tend to think of spoken English being defined by two, perhaps three dialects. The upper-class received pronunciation of the monarchy; the flat east end cockney as portrayed by Michael Caine, or the Estuary accent as spoken by David Bowie and myself. If you really believe there is such a thing as American or Australian English if that conceit comes deceit really fools you, then here is Yorkshire English. With its owd, its thee's and thou's, its nowt and owts, with its rumbling,  rolling swerve and sway of an accent. It is a dialect unlike any other, a language unto its self and deserves, as does Geordie, Brummie, Derby, Irish, Scot's and Welsh, along with Cornish and Devonian English, to be recognised as such. What's good for our American cousins is surely good enough for Yorkshire?

Seeing the title I assumed the content would follow a vaguely familiar pattern. The Devil, the owd feller, comes to the moors where he inflicts mortal harm on any number of innocent victims. I wasn't expecting to find the devil in question to be a Jack 'O Lanterns, a Springheel Jack, a vandal, sheep shagger, one who tries the patience of the local with his mischevious ways. Yet...somehow...a shade or shape begins to form by the actions, sometimes inactions, of the characters portrayed. Simple instances leave subtle clues. Words spoke in conversations evoke sinister undertones. 

The Endlands are a bunch of smallholdings found deep in the Lancashire uplands, bordering closely with Yorkshire, so close in fact one character states that he, and his family, are in fact Yorkshire people. John was born here. John took up teaching and moved away to Suffolk where he met Katherine now his wife and pregnant with their first child. John feels the calling of the land. It begs his return. He doesn't so much beg as insists that Kath and his unborn son return to the lands which no one really owns but simply pass on from father to son to caretake. It is less desire more demand - the lands demand. He feels its pull as though it were religious calling.

As the story unfolds there are several unsettling moments with what might be the Devil's presence, his malevolence, bubbling underneath the psyche. History turns then repeats its mistakes. Crimes of the past permeate slowly and as they do so they define the present.

A masterful book which takes its time to tell a tale worth telling. A novel far better than that which I had assumed it would be.  
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog