Two Book Reviews: Tony Parker's 'The People of Providence' & H.G. Wells' 'The Time Machine'
I've never been a voracious reader. I would love to be, but I find myself being distracted by too many other things to call myself a true bookworm. I have an eclectic mix of interests, mostly artsy-based things like film and music, but my time is also taken up with anomalies such as boxing, stone masonry and vintage bicycles. But books are important to me, and I resolved at the beginning of the year to read more literature. If I took this resolution more seriously, I should be edging towards double figures by now. But alas, I'm only at two.
The first of 2015 was 'The People of Providence', a fascinating social study of residents on a South London housing estate. It was written in the 1980s by oral historian Tony Parker. I began reading it about seven or eight years ago, having read 'Lighthouse', the equally intriguing study of several lighthouse keepers, but gave up on this one about half way through. I managed to get through it this time, but I was reminded why I couldn't finish it on the first attempt. It was by no means an overly complex or verbose read. In fact, it's very accessible. But there's a lot - and I mean a lot - of information to get through. Parker interviews a very wide range of inhabitants on the estate, but as a way of being as anonymous and unobtrusive as possible, the questions he poses to each of the residents is never published. Instead, the answers are presented as a monologue that is only broken either when Parker interviews a particular resident over a series of visits or when he moves onto his next subject. Because there's no let up in opinion and minimal breaks in text, it is quite dense in terms of detail. But I can appreciate what Parker was doing: his primary focus - as is the case in all of his books - was the people. And no one can deny that he captured the mood and general feeling of that era. A very compelling read of a bygone era and a great historical document.
The second needs very little introduction. H.G. Wells' much-loved and highly-influencial 'The Time Machine' is simply sublime. Part of the appeal of reading it came from the edition. It's a wonderfully-decorated but fragile book. It was in reasonably good condition when I began reading it, but the merest turn of a page (not least 252!) seemed to be too much for its spine, and as a result the poor thing has begun to collapse. It doesn't have a publication year, but the editor refers to Wells as a writer of the present day in his or her preface, which dates the book to the interwar period. As for the story itself, Wells' description is sumptuous. Like John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids (which I read for the first time last year), I found myself re-reading passages out of sheer pleasure. Like Wyndham's great work, the story is free of complexities or pretensions. Although it was published in the late-Victorian era, it feels like a novel that could have been published much later. Its language is well-considered and succinct as as such, Wells' ideas are very easy to grasp - not just in terms of his ideas on time travel, but also the expertly-intertwined social commentary. I fell in love with the story quite early on. There's just something about the distant future that fascinates me - so much so that in 2013 I had a poem published on the subject. Even thinking about the year A.D. 802,701 - the time in which the book's protagonist travels - produces an inherent sense of wonder that I cannot quite account for. Wells' vision is simply impossible to overpraise. Here are a few more pictures of the book itself: