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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

In Print(4) . . .

Caught by the River, Jeff Barrett, Robin Turner and Andrew Walsh (editors)

In Caught by the River, writers, musicians, environmentalists, anglers and poets contribute to a tranquil collection of accounts of time spent with a favourite river. "Rivers run through men," begins John Berry's "The River Alness", "as surely as they run through the landscape". The temptations of consumerism make it easy to forget the wonders around us. The river cuts through countryside and cities alike, gathering at its own pace towards the sea, offering solitude and respite.

Such is the strength of the emotional spell a river can cast, it comes as no surprise that the majority of the writing here concerns itself with the past. Passing generations are marginalised by gentrification and childhood adventures (with the obligatory father-and-son "bonding" yarn) take place in an idyll long disappeared. Such passing of time is evident in Robyn Turner's assured "Endless Summer" and Matthew De Abaitua's lament on the demise of the Liverpool docker, where "the engineering of man and nature" once complemented each other.

Childhood friendships are galvanised by an unsuccessful fishing trip for chub by the Wear in Ben Myers' exploration of place, "The Dirt Waterfall". But it's not all about the architecture of memory. Jarvis Cocker's "South Yorkshire re-creation of Apocalypse Now" is genuinely amusing, even when his River Porter voyage, "Acrylic Afternoons", becomes a metaphor for life.

There is much to glean from this collection, especially in the writing that eschews sentimentality and delivers a psychogeographical odyssey. Sue Clifford and Angela King's "The Language of Rivers" is a treat, as are the ever-knowledgeable Bill Drummond, Peter Kirby and Jon Savage.

The editors have shepherded a spirited and diverse collection of nature writing. Caught by the River taps into a growing unease with a present which is felt to be leaving us behind, and where the idyllic past we crave seems further from our grasp each passing day.

[original source: The Independent, Wednesday, 1 July 2009]


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