I really enjoyed this story of a family, as seen through their annual camping holidays on a farm in Wales. I found it to be a lyrical book, in which character and description were more important than action. Having said that, there were also many interesting plot developments, some of which were dramatic conflicts and upheavals, others subtle and slow alterations in the family members’ lives and relationships that gradually happen over the years. I felt that these slow developments were like a smaller scale version of the infinitesmal changes that create landscape and geology, which are also beautifully described in the book. I could feel the author’s knowledge and love of the landscape, which created a vivid sense of place. This lyricism and poetic, unusual way of looking at the world also came out in unexpected places, such as in descriptions of the mother of the family, Colette’s, work as a bus conductor. I really liked this aspect of the book.
The two most interesting characters to me were Colette, and her oldest son, Janus. I also found the father, Aldous, very sympathetic and was interested in his adventures on cycling holidays as a teenager. However, Aldous then rather faded away from the main action, while Colette and Janus took centre stage. Janus is a complicated, troubled but talented character. He studies music but then seems to squander his talents and lead a slightly chaotic life. He has problems with relationships, is awkward around women and on a couple of occasions becomes obsessed. I always enjoyed reading about his rather strange and complex conversations and interactions with his mother. I found Colette’s storyline absorbing too, in particular an unusual problem she has which goes to some extent unacknowledged by the family and others around her. The book here shows its historical context clearly in its depiction of the ignorance surrounding Colette’s problem. It’s not a book that includes many obvious historic events, but I did get a sense of the era. The family also had a particularity about them that made them seem very real. Their individual characteristics and foibles brought them to life, and I liked the way they cared so much about literature, art, music and ideas. Although there is a lot of affection within the family, there is also a sense of stagnation, as if they want too much for things to remain the same forever. Without any forward momentum, their lives inevitably begin to disintegrate. The yearly holiday becomes a symbol of the golden age of family life they can’t hold onto. As things fall apart, the parents feel a deep nostalgia for their first few holidays, when the children were young, and they desperately attempt to recapture happier times.
I am pleased to know that there is a sequel, I’ll Go To Bed At Noon, so I’ll be able to find out what happens next.