Review: In the Orchard, the Swallows by Peter Hobbs
Title: In the Orchard, the Swallows
Author: Hobbs, Peter
Length: 160 pages
Publisher / Year: House of Anansi Press / 2012
Source: From Trish at Anansi for review.
Why I Read It: Trish always knows what I will like.
Date Read: 12/03/12
What if your life was interrupted and you’ve been imprisoned for years for something you didn’t commit? This book begins with a man making his way to an orchard, clearly struggling with weakness and injury. When he arrives, he relaxes with the birds and the sunrise, and we immediately sense the importance of this place to his life. Through the story we find that he has been imprisoned and is slowly recovering from the tortures that he endured there. He is also longing to find his family and love, and this is a constant theme through the novel.
When Trish gave me this book to review, she introduced it with a bit of background information on the author. I feel it is useful to do the same here, because that knowledge it guided my reading of the book and really enriched the experience in many ways. Hobbs was an Oxford graduate from the UK who was sent to Pakistan as a junior diplomat. While there he fell very ill. He was subsequently confined to bed for a couple of years, and his recovery took much longer. To help pass the time, he started writing and has since won a number of awards.
In this book, the narrator experiences such hopelessness and suffering by being alone and unable to move in prison. As he slowly relearns to walk and gain strength back after his confinement and injuries, it is hard not to imagine that Hobbs’ past must have played some role in how incredibly believably and heartbreakingly this man’s struggle is told. The unnamed narrator suffers in unimaginable ways, but it never comes off as too difficult to read, or as overwrought or imagining. In his telling, we believe him completely, feel for him, and yet also understand his reasons for telling the story and appreciate the short ways he does so.
It feels cheap to say it, as it seems an overused sentiment in reviewing, but the prose in this book truly is lyrical and poetic. Every word seems chosen specifically for the fact that it fits so well, and sounds so right. Written in shorter sentences, the words still flow and sing. Written in the form of a confessional letter to his love, he moves back and forth in time between re-living his younger days as a child, the torture of prison, or the current situation where he is slowly healing and moving on. Definitely recommended.