DVDs & CDs
View All Titles
Arts and Literature
Novels set in Cumbria
After many generations, it is now, in 1971, Harold who runs Ard Farm. Out on the fells, he feels his father's presence, and there is hope that he, his grandmother and his Uncle Joe will be able to take the farm forward and prosper. But their way of life is under threat. Farming is undergoing huge change and increasingly harmful intervention.
As the years pass, and Harold has a son of his own, he strives to keep control of his land, to make a go of it, even while forces he cannot understand are gradually destroying him...Towards Mellbreak is a hymn both to the landscape of Cumbria and to a disappearing world. Poetic, beautiful and tragic, it gives an account of the struggle to preserve traditions and beliefs in the face of change. It is a quietly bold indictment of the treatment of generations of British men, and an assertion of the power to be found in the rituals we pass down through our families.
Hardback; 225 x 145mm
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
As the young Harold John Elijah Marras walked over his family land at Ard, he felt "the rumble of spring. It rose out of the fells today, almost a stampede of it, he thought. It was bright morning lifting the green so high it was luminous."
The Cumbrian fells, the fells around Crummock and Buttermere, Sail and Fleetwith Pike and Red Pike and Mellbreak, are spiritual presences in this first novel by Marie-Elsa Bragg.
The novel tells the story of Harold, his grandmother Catherine, his wife Esther and his son Stephen and their changing relationship with the land. That deep connection with the land is there in everything they do. Harold finds a sheep with a stick bound into her. He grabs her and frees her with a care and tenderness born of generations of shepherds: " 'No lass, not good for you that'n,' he crooned in a low voice, huddling over, pulling the thorny twig from felted wool, feeling her jolt."
They are people deeply imbued with their Cumbrian past, sharing a sympathy with the life of the land and threatened by modern agricultural change. That change comes to the remote farm - and it seems remote in both time and place - in the form of modern farming methods and bureaucracy and in the shape of the organophosphates used to dip the sheep. It is a deeply spiritual way of life, but it is a way of life doomed to a slow extinction.
The grandmother Catherine sits in the small church and meditates on the meaning of Easter. She thinks of her dead husband, Albert, and their great-grandson, "a young, silky-haired boy, so quiet, as if he carried their silence". She must "keep young Stephen's family alive, fill the silence in him".
She also reads the letters sent from China over earlier years by her brother John. He is a missionary increasingly isolated in a strange land, but keeping his faith even more resolutely despite facing insuperable hardships. The letters are a presence in the household.
We watch the passing of the years and Harold's decline and the processes by which each person re-animates their faith until the novel reaches a final epiphany beneath Mellbreak." And look how the water goes, slow at first, loosening its wine. . . . And up in the branches, the new copper branches, not yet swathed with threaded grey, his hands lump into soft bud, leaves unfurl their wax-green cupping berries of velvet milk."
Towards Mellbreak is woven with many threads. The language is always poetic, rich with the words of the countryside, with the naming of plants and places, and striving after individuality and precision. The book is tracing the harsh processes of social change as the old Cumbrian way of farming life is submerged beneath the modern world. And Marie-Elsa is also exploring a spiritual world, aspiring towards an imagery which raises the enduring lives of these people above the physical world and endows them with a religious meaning.
This is an intensely-felt work which arrives at an original understanding of the relationship between man, landscape and the spiritual. It is a book that feels like the outpouring of something long and deeply meditated. The intensity of its colour and the sureness of its spiritual feeling in the face of inevitable change and loss make this a novel that is searching to say something deeply serious and tragic.
In the poetry of this novel, the landscape, the waters "loosen their wine" and provide their own redemption.
DVDs & CDs