Petley, D. (2016) Love Madness Fishing Little Toller Books ISBN 978 1 908213 44 0
An Amazon reader’s pithy review explodes:
“…not so much an emotional roller-coaster as full-blown spleen off a hand-me-down bike. superbly powerful piece of writing. should be on the national curriculum (English teachers take note!)”
Dexter Petley has written something rather special.
“…the story of a true child of the country whose language is at times seamless and immaculate. It is a cup of tea brewed on an open fire and drunk from a petrol tinged billy can – an important work forming a missing piece of patchwork on the blanket of classic English country writing. This is the country of blood; dirt and bone made up of the nature of ditch water; cordite and cold despair.” John Andrews, Caught by the River review
Petley’s book is Barry Hines’ Kes; it’s part-Chaucer / part-Beveridge Report; the publisher’s blurb adds that it’s reminiscent of Laurie Lee, of Blood Knots by Luke Jennings and Jonathan Meades’ An Encyclopaedia of Myself but in truth it’s none of these things, this is all Petley and the book stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of these comparisons – as an equal.
“Nineteen seventy-one became the summer of puppy love. The curtains fell from my eyes and I was blinded by sight. Under Sarah’s guidance, and the Ordnance Survey map she always carried. Hawkhurt became transfigured, from a kind of open borstal of the over-familiar, into a new world of rustic vocabulary and pastoral verse. Places once designated for a laugh were now traversed by bridal paths, drovers’ ways, jossing-blocks, cuckoo gates, spiles, wents and throws. Our romantic trampings filled by undertones from history and pagan tales. Stream and ponds, no longer targets for floats and worms, became the tapestried in Sarah’s medieval landscapes, aesthetic bowers where she taught me nature’s raw poetics.” p98
Love, Madness, Fishing – what a cracking good title – is an unsentimental memoir of growing up the late ’60s/early ’70s. It’s a wonderful unravelling of a time of transformation and change in the English countryside, done with clear-eyed, unsentimental relish. It’s vivid. Naked. Heart-rending. Poetic. A page-turner. A story rich in incident and characters and pain. A story of depression, breakdown and perhaps redemption. Not a fishing book but channelling fishing, with fishing at its beating heart.
This book is another gem from Little Toller Books. Petley captures, in technicolour prose, transformation both social and personal; communal neurosis and personal meltdowns; love and death. It’s a book that’s deeply touching and memorable.
John Andrew has captured its bravura energy wonderfully:
“His new book, the memoir Love Madness Fishing, reads like the bastard child of Swift’s Last Orders and Dickens’ Great Expectations found abandoned in the rain by the side of the A21 and picked up by a passing van driver with a penchant for the poetry of Billy Childish whose public bar party trick is to eat his pint glass at closing time. It draws on all of Petley’s work, populated as its pages are by the real individuals who inspired so many of the characters in his fictional work. There they existed as ghosts and phantoms, haunting the pages until the last one in each book was read and giving them a weight that was beyond their sum of paper and card. Here the ghosts come back and reveal themselves to have been real all along. As Dexter says in his introduction ‘THE WORDS; I HOPE; ARE PEARLS FOR LAURE. THE BOOK, ITSELF, IS FOR THE NAMES WITHIN’. And what names they are, names that are vanishing from the English landscape as cruelly as the ash. All the margins are shrinking, all the wastes are being built over.”