— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) February 1, 2016
Rounding the halfway bend last weekend in Pig Iron, Benjamin Myers’ 2012 novel, I found myself more and more gripped by the fate of its narrator, John-John Wisdom, a young man whose hardscrabble history is steadily revealed to the reader through the course of a twined narrative that braids together parallel first person accounts by he and his mother. The investment I expressed in my tweet last weekend paid double as I finished the book, at last learning the whole truth of the Wisdom’s family story. In the parlance of England, they are “Travellers,” perhaps not exactly ethnic Roma but wandering tribes nonetheless, similar to Europe’s long-shunned gypsies. The inventiveness with language and vocabulary was reminiscent to me of what Russell Hoban did in Ridley Walker and Anthony Burgess in Clockwork Orange, albeit without quite the same futuristic-apocalyptic intimations. Young Wisdom’s late father was a bare-knuckle boxer, while his son’s a fighter of a different kind. John-John, only recently released from a five-year sentence in prison, is determined to put his life back together following a deed that he only hints at when a new girlfriend asks him about his time away from the rural climes he cherishes, his “green cathedral.” The references to a rural idyll reminded me of when a terminally ill Dennis Potter, creator of “The Singing Detective” TV series, expressed a deep connection for the Forest of Dean in his courageous 1994 interview with Melvyn Bragg. I also see Myers’ work in a line of connection with English writer about landscape and wild places, Robert Macfarlane, whose The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot I loved so much.
Myers’ latest novel, Beastings, was awarded the Manchester, England public library’s Portico Prize, after Pig Iron had earlier won the Gordon Burn award, named in honor of a Newcastle, England novelist. I learned about Myers through this profile in the Guardian’s book pages by Alison Flood, then bought Pig Iron online from a UK bookseller. His publisher is Bluemoose Books of West Yorkshire, England. This is Myers’ website. He hasn’t had much exposure yet in the US, and I hope this post of mine draws some attention to his work. He deserves to be read by fans of the writers mentioned above, as well as readers who enjoy Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf. I look forward to next reading Beastings.