The Terry Darlington Two

With Terry Darlington’s website advertising a third book in the series: Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier

‘…about the loss of the Phyllis May, and two summers spent exploring the northern canals of England in the PM2…’

(above) The burnt out and distorted shell of the first Phyllis May

It seems a good time to take a look at his previous two…

The Birmingham Post: ‘Rollicking adventure… engaging, romantic and literary’
The Independent: ‘A classic of the genre.’
Whilst none other than Joanna Lumley opined of Narrow Dog to Carcassonne [NDtC]: ‘A stunning book – racy, chatty, touching, and very, very witty.’

And each review is utterly right. These books are a delight, and they deserve the recognition and success they’ve had. I enjoyed reading both enormously. They’re certainly an effective and entertaining antidote to Winter blues, and a tantalising challenge to ‘get up and get out into the adventure of the big wide world, no matter how old you are’. They are humourous, wise, witty and rewarding in equal measure…

However, that doesn’t make flawless. In fact, I struggled with NDtC initially and put it to one side, having become frustrated with Darlington’s writing style. I’d got lost in the jumping timeframes and the scatter-gun effect of his stream of consciousnesss poeticism. Frankly, the writing style got in the way of the story.

As Darlington confirms in The Terry Darlington Interview at the back of NDtC, he feels he’s something of a failed poet and obviously takes the craft of writing much more seriously than perhaps his published persona suggests:

I always revise, taking out all the words I can. The rules of good writing are well known – try to use short words and avoid clichés – few adjectives and adverbs and make them fresh – the betrayed eyes, he shouted pungently.

And the rhythm and sound matter so much – that is what the reader hears in their mind. You should build a paragraph up like a passage of jazz, and bring it down to earth, not too loud or soft, and feel it is resolved and in the right key. The same for long sentences too.

In NDtC, the sometimes severe editing of sentences, does result in paragraphs, through omission, becoming unnecessarily complex, staccato and overwrought, with the flow of the journey disrupted.

For me, Narrow Dog to Indian River NDtIR is a much more satisfying read.

I wonder, did the enormity of the journey, of the landscape/seascape and of the challenge they’d set themselves, particular when complicated by ill-health, provide a much-needed corset for Darlington’s literary excesses? Because in NDtIR – rather wonderfully – it’s the journey rather than the literary style that come to the fore, and the book’s much the better for it.

Darlington is a wonderfully gifted story-teller, if he doesn’t try to make it into some kind of epic poem. And, what ultimately shines through in NDtIR is humanity, adventure, fun, friendship, love and mortality. NDtIR has fewer meanders down poetic blind alleys, less poetry per se, and more solid prose which enables even an armchair traveller like me to sense something of the scale and magnificence of their madcap enterprise.

I can’t wait for the next instalment. Particularly as it brings their story home.

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