Posted on 28th September 2011

Posted by Rosa Anderson

Douglas Library Reading Group on Disputed Land

As part of the Fiction Uncovered 2011 promotion, we worked with The Reading Agency to reach reading groups across the UK. Eight selected reading groups were given one of the selected Fiction Uncovered titles to read, and we’re delighted that they’ve been able to feed back their thoughts. Here, Isle of Man’s Douglas Library reading group tell us what they thought of Tim Pears’ Disputed Land.

Disputed Land is an intelligent, funny book, and Pears has given a thoughtful comment in a tale on the perilous abuse of the earth’s finite resources. Though Grandma Rosemary thunders her warnings about future global catastrophe, there are other tantalizing themes: life’s disappointments; sibling rivalry; terminal illness; the mismanagement of the countryside; and not least an examination of what distinguishes the ruthless ‘movers and shakers’ of the world from the passive ‘bystanders’.

‘The story is told through the eyes of 13-year-old Theo Cannon as he looks back fifty years to events that took place in Christmas 2008, when the whole clan was summoned to the family home by Theo’s grandparents, Rosemary and Leonard. What will happen when impossibly macho Uncle Jonny with Lorna, his exotic wife and their techno-obsessed twins, Auntie Gwen, two daughters and new partner Melony, and Theo’s academic, music-loving parents find themselves in close proximity as they wait to find out the reason for their invitation?

‘The reader quickly grasps that this will be no relaxing Christmas, and we are invited to look at what happens in the small world of this family gathering, with its schisms and failures in communication that reflect the larger failures of humankind. But there are some very funny moments in the midst of the seriousness.

‘The ‘Disputed Land’ of the title is, on the surface, the history of the Welsh marshes being written by the grandfather whilst also being a recurring theme running throughout the family and their relationships. The grandparents ask their children to stake claims to different pieces of furniture to inherit after their death in an attempt to enable fair distribution whilst the rapacious uncle is trying to mortgage the entire property to support his failing business.

‘In this nostalgic, well-crafted yet delicately and subtly written novel, Theo’s voice is highly coloured by his fifty years of experience since and provides an amused detachment and insight whilst still retaining the naïve and blinkered view of a teenager. The descriptions of the haunting landscape together with its history and the close relationship between the younger Theo and his grandfather were beautifully and sensitively written.

‘The book is a sad, poignant, and at times uncomfortable read, yet ultimately rewarding, as it sensitively addresses many issues that bedevil so many families today. The storyline, as summed up by the Theo, ultimately places the problem of family inheritance against a backdrop of more general sociological change. If family conflicts cannot be resolved, he wonders, then what hope is there for the world to come?’

Hear Tim Pears read from Disputed Land here.

Listen to judge Damian Barr talking about Tim Pears’ Disputed Land here.



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