(RiderBooks, Penguin Random House, 2016)
We first meet the author on a deserted beach, waiting for mackerel:
“Circumstance and illness have led my wife, Sue, and me into a life of rural simplicity… If I catch a fish or two this afternoon then they will be eaten for supper. Should I fail, we will not starve quite yet.”
“I feel an urge to return upstream myself and retread the path that has led me here, to revisit those places that helped shape me an as angler and a man.”
Thus the story is cleverly invigorated with purpose from the outset—we know his plan—and we tag along for the ride.
Parr’s contemplative journey takes us along the rivers he fished in his life; among them a tributary of the Exe, Dorset Stour, Leidle, Mole, Hampshire Avon, Itchen and Kennet. Not a bad portfolio for any angler, but along the way the prose balances beautifully between Parr the angler, the man and the naturalist. Each scene is painted with sensitivity and detail, each chapter infused with local and natural history and carefully interwoven. Not only do you get a sense of the man, but very much a sense of place.
Parr’s honesty is admirable. He does not seek judgement. Central to this awareness of self is his hospitalisation as a teenager due to a long-running battle with depression:
“Eventually I folded, and found myself pumped full of drugs in a hospital ward. Fifteen-minute checks and the laces taken from my trainers. But at last I slept, and was flooded with love from every direction.”
This is a calm reflection on the trials and tribulations of life and their putting into context. Parr doesn’t seek pity, indeed he is appreciative of the opportunity to change the focus and pace of his life. Motivated purely by the quality of the moment; unburdened by expectation and competition—not least against the world and his own demands; suddenly his fishing—and his writing—is infused with optimism, purpose and the time to appreciate his surroundings. Rather than feel sorry for him, it is easier to feel jealous. There is a lesson here that the world is there to be enjoyed, but we need to open our eyes. This is quite simply a joy.
Review by Garrett Fallon