Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier by Terry Darlington
|Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier by Terry Darlington|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The third Narrow Dog book covers loops around the author's backyard - and background.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: June 2012|
|Publisher: Bantam Press|
You might not realise, but there is a hierarchy in publishing of narrowboat travelogue trilogies. At the bottom is Shane Spall, mostly for the fact her and husband Timothy's boat isn't narrow, and partly for the fact she's only published the first volume. With three volumes under his belt, we have Steve Haywood, but top of the pile is Terry Darlington. One example of the proof of this is that Mr Haywood was front page news in the Leicester Mercury when he wrote them a letter about the graffiti near his mooring, while Mr Darlington trended number two on the BBC news sites when his boat burned down, such is the esteem he, his wife, his narrowboat and his narrow dog (Jim the whippet) is held in.
Here Terry Darlington closes the trilogy, by giving us three journeys, for - again - his wife, his new narrowboat, and his new narrow dog. The first half is a trek up north from his home near Stoke, to Yorkshire and back, the second half a loop in the NE Midlands and Yorkshire. Throughout he also loops back to give us an autobiographical resume, from the Port Talbot blitz in WWII up to the current publishing success garnered by his first two trips. (--The first of which has been one of this reviewer's mother's favourite books of the last few years - blame the book reviewing gods for getting in the way of the constant urgings and invitations to share in its discovery.)
The style of the author is what hits you upon launching here. With a chatty approach, riddling the writing with poetic quotes (and self-authored verse, which I really could take or leave, I'm afraid), and no speech marks it feels like Darlington is talking to himself, but that's not a problem. It requires the smallest of adjustment, and then you're ahead full sail, warmly wrapped in his words, which come across as from the best columnist The Oldie magazine has never had (it's little surprise to see the name Punch in his CV of publications instead).
Beyond the singular approach to a personal tale, it does strike me however that the book is a little removed from those that have come before. Of course, in writing about taking a narrow boat across the Channel and down to the south of France one must be biographical to some extent, as regards why such a task was undertaken, but here the fact the journeys are a lot closer to home, and the personal is so greatly enhanced, means the balance of the non-fiction might be too far removed from the travelogue. It seems his eager fans will not be dissuaded from this, and appreciate more of the man and still enjoy his reportage, but for me I wanted more of what he was seeing and less of where his life voyage had taken him.
There are still noteworthy passages - the mundane aspects of controlling two firebrand whippets are brought to fine qualities in writing such as this, and if the press local to Wigan were of the same bent as that in Leicester he is certainly on the way to notoriety. But perhaps as he swans through his eighth decade the urge to go where few narrowboats have been (the second book was Florida-bound of all places) was too little, and the desire of a more leisurely-produced volume has left us with this whimsy. In cruising Haywood's waters he might have felt the need to be different, and while this certainly is that, it might not be as sterling an example of the genre as he has previously produced.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The ultimate travel book for this aquatic isle remains The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain by Paul Theroux, while All at Sea: One Man. One Bathtub. One Very Bad Idea: Conquering the Channel in a Piece of Plumbing by Tim Fitzhigham proves you don't even need a narrowboat to get to France by water.
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