Review published on April 2, 2017.
Late in 2015, Christopher Somerville lost his father after a short battle with cancer. He had had a tempestuous relationship with him as a teenager, partly because of the teenage angst, but also because of his father’s job. They tried to bond by undertaking longer walks through the countryside, but it didn’t always work. As they both grew older and a little wiser, the relationship strengthened and the walks that they undertook brought them back together.
Undertaking a walk in a different part of the country for each month, Somerville weaves together a mix of personal recollection of his father, the countryside he is wandering through, and the natural wonders he sees around him. He walks in the floods in the West country, the tiny Isle of Foula near Shetland, round Sherwood Forest and along the Lancashire coast and heads to Lyme Regis for a family gathering. He uses these walks to look at the man his father was and to try to comprehend him. He worked at GCHQ and could not say a word about his work to anyone, which led to many frustrating moments in their relationship.
This is no fair weather walking book; he is not scared to venture out in the rain to follow his route. It is quite readable and at certain points he shows his class as a writer. He can be quite reflective as he muses about his father and the things that will forever remain secret. I really liked the verses from the song ‘The January Man’ by Dave Goulder that accompany a beautiful sketch at the beginning of each chapter, they added a nice touch to the book. Worth reading I think, but it didn’t quite soar for me.
Paul Cheney 3/3
The January Man: A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville
Doubleday 9780857523631 hbk Jan 2017
Longlisted for the Wainwright Book Prize 2017 – find out more and read an extract