Tom Cox’s masterful debut novel synthesises his passion for music, nature and folklore into a psychedelic and enthralling exploration of village life and the countryside that sustains it.

There’s so much to know. It will never end, I suspect, even when it does. So much in all these lives, so many stories, even in this small place.

Villages are full of tales: some are forgotten while others become a part of local folklore. But the fortunes of one West Country village are watched over and irreversibly etched into its history as an omniscient, somewhat crabby, presence keeps track of village life.

#Villager @cox_tom Instagram @21stcenturyyokel @unbounders #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours #blogtour

In the late sixties a Californian musician blows through Underhill where he writes a set of haunting folk songs that will earn him a group of obsessive fans and a cult following. Two decades later, a couple of teenagers disturb a body on the local golf course. In 2019, a pair of lodgers discover a one-eyed rag doll hidden in the walls of their crumbling and neglected home. Connections are forged and broken across generations, but only the landscape itself can link them together. A landscape threatened by property development and superfast train corridors and speckled by the pylons whose feet have been buried across the moor.

My Review

Villager is written from the point of view of a number of different ‘characters’, one of whom is an American folk musician called RJ McKendree who ‘blows through’ in the late sixties and stays a while, writing songs inspired by the people of the village of Underhill and the surrounding countryside. He meets many interesting people while he is there. Years later his iconic album Wallflower, recorded in 1968 and released in 1975 becomes the focus of a cult following.

‘Two decades later, a couple of teenagers disturb a body on the local golf course. In 2019, a pair of lodgers discover a one-eyed rag doll hidden in the walls of their crumbling and neglected home.’ The book jumps around between the decades and sometimes feels a bit disjointed but stay with it. Towards the end, we hear from the man who was living in the same house in 1932 and he tells us the origin of the one-eyed doll and why it was hidden in the wall.

I put ‘characters’ above in inverted commas because one of them is not a person – it’s the moor itself. It watches what goes on – a jet skier and his sons disturbing the peace and creating a dangerous situation for the people swimming. But the moor remembers what this man did years ago, when he knocked down a pony and left it to die. The moor is privy to secrets no-one else knows. And it remembers the dark, the old dark, before ‘the time of light’.

‘I honestly can’t tell you how dark it once was around here. I couldn’t even begin to make you understand.’

But my favourite part is about Bob and Sally in 2021 at the start of the pandemic and then 22 years later in 2043. Sally has died and we see what the world might look like in the future.

‘Everyone knew the state of play now, the chorus of denial of two decades ago had fizzled down to a low hum, and. while plenty was being done to stop the acceleration into the void, the two major obstacles standing in the way – corporate greed, and the illusory drive towards convenience – could not be circumnavigated.’

Visors had been introduced ten years earlier – Bob refused to be fitted – Shropshire is disappearing under water, and Bob, now 73, believes that, ‘the planet as it had been known for the last few thousand years would end soon.’ He has nothing electronic, no phone, no internet, little access to news. He believes he is lucky in that he can afford to make that choice and join the Resistance.

His cousins in Stroud chose not to join the Resistance. Now if anyone is going to join the Resistance it would be the people in Stroud!

There is so much in this book that is prophetic, often funny, sometimes sad, and always makes you think. I frequently had to go back and read a sentence or a paragraph again because if you read too quickly you might miss something important.

It’s not a quick, easy read. The language is lyrical and meandering and sometimes the individual stories appear a tad overlong. This is a book to be savoured when you are not in a rush, when you are sitting in the sunshine, on holiday, and without the daily interruptions of life. It breaks all the rules of traditional storytelling and replaces them with its own.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours

About the Author and more

‘I’m writing a novel. My first. It was twenty years ago this month that I took a pen and a notebook up to a hillside in the south of England and decided I was going to write a novel and that doing so was more important to me than anything else in the whole universe, so I thought it was about time. The novel is called Villager and already feels like the most exciting flood of words I’ve ever put down on paper. It also feels new and at times quite frightening, which I have learned, from my previous experience of writing books, both tend to be positives. I would be extraordinarily grateful if you, dear readers, who have so kindly funded my previous four books, were able to help me transfer this new, exciting, frightening experience into something real that will appear on bookshelves late next year. A bit more grateful than before, even, to tell the truth. Because, for me, this feels like the big one. Not big in the sense of “This book could be big, commercially!” But big in the sense of what I’m trying to do, the challenges and risks it represents, and what an enormous, emotive place it occupies on the map of my own personal and creative history.’

Tom Cox lives in Devon. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, the Bad and the Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia. 21st-Century Yokel was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and the titular story of Help the Witch won a Shirley Jackson Award. @cox_tom

Tom Cox has 80k followers on Twitter and 33k on Instagram. He is also the man behind the enormously popular Why My Cat is Sad account, which has 240k followers.

Tom is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Good, the Bad and the Furry.

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