Unless you happen to be reading this from the Cumbria region of England, chances are good you have no idea what a lonning is. I’m freakishly good at research, and it took me longer than I would have expected to determine that a lonning, in the Cumbrian dialect, is a small lane. You can see pictures of one here.
Much of THE WOODCUTTER’s story takes place on a country estate in Cumbria, and more than one scene takes place at or around the lonning. Every time this came up, though, it simply served to remind me that I found the book incredibly frustrating. Not for lack of a good story, mind you—the story is the reason I finished the book at all. It was interesting enough to make me put up with a cast of insufferable characters, each of whom I hoped with each page turn would meet a grisly end.
THE WOODCUTTER is about a man who grows up poor and ends up rich—and possibly stark raving mad. The story concerns how he ended up locked in a loony bin, and what he does once he gets out. Embedded in the story is sharp commentary on English class architecture and politics.
Told ‘ya it was an interesting story!
THE WOODCUTTER’s Cumbria, though, is populated with people who are alternately mean, hateful, disingenuous, and just generally ugly. There’s not a likeable soul amongst them. Some have the odd redeeming quality—the local vicar who attempts to be kind to the main character’s cur-with-a-protective-soul pup, for example—but they’re generally the type who remind us only of the worst human qualities. Even the psychiatrist who is intended, I think, to be the one with whose humanity we can identify, is too shallow to ring true.
So back to my debate. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t intend this to be a forum where I write about books I don’t like, because if I don’t like a book as a general rule, I won’t finish it. And the truth is that I’d be hard pressed to strongly recommend THE WOODCUTTER. But it’s also true to say that five months on, it has stuck with me. I’m still thinking about it. So it must have had more redeeming qualities than my frustration while reading allowed me to recognize. And I’ve spoken with readers who loved it—and for reasons as valid as mine for not liking it.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a fan of Downton Abbey. Didn’t care for Brideshead Revisited. Wouldn’t give you tuppence for Upstairs Downstairs. If you like these sorts of stories—or, indeed, MI5 / Spooks—I’d say you might really enjoy THE WOODCUTTER. If, however, your tastes run more to urban police procedurals, you might want to give it the random page test before purchasing a copy. For me, I plan to read some o Mr. Hill’s earlier books, as I’m told they might be more to my liking.
Author’s Website: www.randomhouse.com/features/reghill/