I would have liked to like this book, after all it did win the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year, but I’m afraid it didn’t really do it for me. I guess that’s it – it’s not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t love it. The prose was magnificent, verging on poetic, but it just left me feeling slightly bewildered and not particularly moved.

The book starts with George, bedridden and surrounded by relatives and the antique clocks he loves and repairs, in the house he build, dying of cancer. And he starts to hallucinate – the house comes tumbling down around him, until the sky itself is sucked down upon him. It’s one of the most gripping and imaginative openings to a novel I’ve ever read, but it offers no real clue to the purpose of the book, and that sets the tone of the rest of this slim volume.

Interspersed with George’s dying moments is the story of his father (although whether George is remembering or whether this is just a separate thread spun through the tale isn’t clear). George’s father, Howard, is a tinker, making his living from the selling of bits and bobs to the people who live in their homesteads in the woods. Howard is close to nature and an epileptic, a curse that sends him fleeing from his family, and a blessing in what it then grants him.

These two stories are twined together, with fragments from a horologist’s book and passages on nature. Harding’s descriptive reach is breathtaking but at the end I couldn’t bring myself to feel for his characters. I didn’t know who they were or what they wanted, what their relations were to each other. George’s wife and his grandson seem more real and knowable than George and Howard themselves. Whilst I felt the rhythm and the power of the language, I came to feel the characters were a mere sideshow: and maybe that was the whole story – nature carries on in her power and beauty regardless and humans’ passing is marked by the regular ticking of the clocks.

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