Landed is Tim Pears’ sixth novel, and although it shares broad themes with his previous work, it is arguably darker and certainly tricksier. The story centres around Owen Ithell; of his childhood living with his grandparents in the Welsh hills and of the car accident that robs him not only of his daughter and his right hand, but of his livelihood and, eventually, his family.
The book introduces the reader to an accident collision report. Owen’s loss is so abstracted by a litany of vehicle specifications, road measurements, and witness testimonies that readers have no clue of the personal tragedy that has unfolded.
The chapters recounting Owen’s extended childhood holidays spent in the Welsh hills are written in terse but vivid prose; you can feel the electric thrum of the ferret as you hold it, and smell the reek of its musk on your hands. There are moments where the magic of ordinary things is breathtaking: winter rain gathers in the cracks in a dry-stone wall – as it freezes it expands, and causes the wall to explode, all thunder shuddering across the hills.
Interspersed between these childhood tales, Owen’s wife expresses the underlying structure of the book in two sentences:
“There were life before the accident, and life after. They are two different lives”.
Readers are presented with an account of Owen’s rehabilitation, the phantom limb pain he suffers, and the mirror-box treatment he undergoes. As part one comes to an end, Owen recounts meeting his wife, the birth of his children, the aftermath of the accident and his slide into alcohol abuse. He also tells of his separation from his wife and children, and of his black thoughts of suicide.
In the second part of the book, Owen resolves to reconnect with his roots by journeying with his children back to the Wales of his childhood. They travel first by train, then by car, and, lastly, on foot, subsisting on whatever they can find on the way. There are the gatherings-in and castings-off of a life – the lover, the children, the dog, the hook – as the group walk untravelled and strangely deserted roads.
The journey starts and ends with the same image – a boy, running down a hill, arms outstretched, grounded only by unfair gravity – and has an unreal, magical quality. There are echoes here of the images of his childhood: a lorry, overturned and abandoned in a car park, and a sheep lost then found, in a copse, feet skyward.
For me, there are two minor sections that work less well: neither the itinerant nor the encounter in the town, self-sustaining and guarded by lookouts, sit comfortably with the subtlety of the rest of the book. This notwithstanding, it is a convincing account of a life destroyed by random circumstance, and of the shocks and aftershocks sent through the lives of others. It is also concerned with how we find solace in our past, how we yearn for things lost, and with the unknowable force of destiny.
Landed is a lovely but also painful novel, grounded in the land but lit by shafts of beauty, with an ending that is gently surprising and almost suffocatingly poignant, urging you to read the last few pages one more time.