Review published on August 14, 2017.
The English countryside has many quintessential images; the patchwork of fields, lanes with high hedges and sleepy villages nestled in between hills and dales. The village or hamlet has been a place of habitation for many hundreds of years in this country, a place that was deeply rooted in the locality, made from the materials that surrounded it and with a strong connection to the landscape. Some outgrew their original layout into towns and a few into cities, but the vast majority have remained as villages.
The role of the village has changed dramatically during the 20th and into the 21st century; what once was a place where people rarely ventured from and generally lived all their lives, had a busy and purposeful existence, has now become a quaint place for commuters to live and second home owners to visit occasionally. Tom Fort wonders if there is still a life and soul to village life, and decides that the best way to find it is to climb on his faithful bicycle and go and find out for himself. Visiting villages from Foxton in Cambridgeshire to Pitton in Wiltshire, he considers at how village life has evolved and changed over the past 6000 years in our country. He visits the villages where there is still an active community and others where people hardly talk at all.
Fort writes in an amiable way that makes him quite endearing as he travels to all the village that add to the story of rural life. He mixes historical detail with encounters and personal anecdotes of his own village life when he was growing up and now in the village of Sonning Common. Rightly, he has a rant over the way that the homes that they build in villages nowadays completely lack any design and originality and any nod to the local area they are being built in and are just homogenised layouts repackaged by a marketing department to suit. There are no dramatic revelations in here, just a warm nostalgia for the past days with an acknowledgement of the positive and negative progress of life today in the English village. Really enjoyable read.
Paul Cheney 4/3
The Village News by Tom Fort
Simon & Schuster UK 9781471151095 hbk Apr 2017
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Cheltenham Literature Festival 2017 – line-up and Q&A
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