[Reading] ➶ The Great Level Author Stella Tillyard – Golanvideoagency.info
Beautifully written Historical facts mixed with a personal story which I enjoyed very much The main characters are not worked out in depth The author observes them throughout their lives and relates the observations to the reader It s a fairytale style of writing, but well done, I felt I was there. I Am An Engineer And A Measured Man Of The World I Prefer To Weigh Everything In The Balance, To Calculate And To Plan Yet My Own Heart Is Going Faster Than I Can Now CountIn , Jan Brunt, A Dutchman, Arrives In England To Work On Draining And Developing The Great Level, An Expanse Of Marsh In The Heart Of The Fen Country It Is Here He Meets Eliza, Whose Love Overturns His Ordered Vision And Whose Act Of Resistance Forces Him To See The World Differently Jan Flees To The New World, Where The Spirit Of Avarice Is Raging And His Skills As An Engineer Are Prized Then One Spring Morning A Boy Delivers A Note That Prompts Him To Remember The Fens, And Confront All That Was Lost There The Great Level Is A Dramatic And Elemental Story About Two People Whose Differences Draw Them Together Then Drive Them Apart Jan And Eliza S Journeys, Like The Century They Inhabit, Are Filled With Conflict, Hard Graft And Adventure And See Them Searching For Their Own Piece Of Solid Ground Now this should have been a book I enjoyed.It has chapters set in my place of birth Kings Lynn and many others set at the very foundation of the City I visit monthly New York as it transitions from New Amsterdam Golden HillThe Kings Lynn and Ely part is around the draining of the Fens a landscape which has inspired great writing such as Fen by Daisy Johnson, Waterland by Graham Swift and Paul Kingsnorth s The Wake The New York part similar in many ways to the setting of Francis Spufford s exuberant debut novel Further the book is by a respected historian and set in one of the most fascinating periods of English and early Colonial history the revolution and restoration Its main narrator is an engineer just like the wonderful Dublin Literary and Goldsmith winning Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.Returning to this book The main character and main first party narrator of the book is a Dutchman Jan Brunt who, with his engineering knowledge developed in the dams and polders of Holland, accepts a position in 1649 as one of the lead engineers on the project to drain the marshes in the Fens around Ely Each part of the book starts with a section set in Nieuw Amsterdam, where a largely solitary and withdrawn Jan, still acting as an advisor on water drainage, is confronted with a note promising a visit from someone he has not seen for many years which in turn causes him to reflect on the events of the Great Level.The Great Level parts are full of details of the drainage perhaps the most interesting element is the heavy use of forced labour firstly Irish and later Covenanter prisoners of war of Cromwell Sadly though the actual engineering and drainage elements themselves do not come to life they are neither entertaining or informative and I felt I would have been much better served by a non fictional treatment of the Great Level Another element is the almost pagan nature of the marsh dwellers captured in Eliza a fey, almost ghost like woman who visits him and with whom he forms an intense relationship however I found this part rather strained credibility.The sections in the American colonies are stronger and particularly a whole part which switches to the first party voice of Eliza an Eliza who is a far interesting and compelling character and whose hints of her reappearance bring into life the depths of Jan s character Her transformation from the character of the first part is best described as like the Doolittle of Pygmalion presumably deliberately given her first name, but was weakened for me by her somewhat fantasy like presence in the Great Level sections.So certainly an interesting book but one which felt short of the Great Level of my expectations the sections set in the UK draining my enthusiasm as efficiently as Jan does the Fens. Stella Tillyard s The Great Level is an absolute stunner It s everything that I want in an historical novel a completely immersive reading experience, feeling submerged in a previously unknown historical epoch and previously unknown historical locales After Mike McCormack s Solar Bones, whoever would have thought that another novel about a civil engineer could be so fully absorbing, especially one located in seventeenth century England and Manhattan Tillyard recounts the struggles of Dutch civil engineers, supported by wealthy gentry, prisoners, and soldiers, struggle to reclaim arable land from the fenlands surrounding the Isle of Ely Tillyard invents fully believable characters and especially Jan Brunt and Eliza who involve us in their lives.Jan s voice is especially convincing and powerful Here he speaks of his workBut my pleasure, when I talk of my work, has a darkening edge It has come to me that for one world to be made, another must die Now, as my vision begins to come into being, I am filled with sadness as well as joy I have seen that this unimproved world has its own way of being which will will be lost It has, even, its own splendorAnd here Jan speaks of memoryIt is said that the contrary of to forget is to remember, yet that axiom sounds now like something learned at school, a verse recited or a catechism, just a story in language The contrary of to forget, I see now, is to be a part of, to live with and to share I watch the ocean disappear behind me and know that a life without a past is a thin one, a life starved of voices and nourishment I will not forget I will let memory liveThe Great Level for me is also a testament to the power of browsing in an excellent bookstore Almost all of what I read now is by less than two handfuls of favorite novelists Brookner, Green, Modiano, Roth, Rhys, Robinson or from recommendations gleaned from book reviews, literary friends, or prize lists But I discovered The Great Level on a table with recently published fiction in Toppings and Company, with a lovely dustjacket and an inviting signed first edition ribbon no sticker, thank you very much One small quibble, and one which I hope Chatto Windus addresses in a future edition The Great Level is a novel that demands illustrative endpapers and hand drawn maps of both the Great Level and Manatus Eylandt. Jan Brunt arrives in Norfolk to drain The Fens and increase the amount of arable land, funded by Norfolk s famous son Oliver Cromwell In Norfolk, he meets and starts a relationship with Eliza, who later tells her story and becomes a three dimensional character on a page The story eventually moves to New Amsterdam, where we find Jan a bit of a recluse, still earning his way as an engineer I was fascinated by the story of draining The Fens, as Norfolk is just north of Suffolk where I live The engineering and work involved in bending nature to human endeavour has always fascinated me and I wanted to find out about how you stop water from spreading in a low lying piece of land Ideally, I would have loved a couple of maps one of Norfolk and one of New Amsterdam, showing the difference between the modern day maps we are familiar with Those short comings aside, this was a great book. There are two problems with this book one and its pace and two the ending Mostly told from the point of view of the engineer Jan Brunt, the story creeps along at a frustrating pace until the second voice of Eliza is introduced She is brave, intelligent and curious and ultimately she turns a punishment into an opportunity.I can t help but feel that if Eliza s point of view and indeed her story was introduced a little earlier that this story would have been rounded and engaging For too long she is just a cardboard cut out character, we know too little of her history and her motivations The people of the fens must have been worried about the draining of the fans and fearful for their futures, this fact is made much of at the beginning of the book, but then is never really fully examined I feel this is a great shame and could have been explored and given voice to by Eliza. Three and a half stars, in the end, I think, for this book which did provide the most evocative visit to this corner of the UK since Graham Swift s Waterland , but still wasn t quite perfect The narrator, repetitive as he is, unable to convince he s living in the time of Pepys as he is, gives us a way in to an extraordinary undertaking, for he s a Dutch engineer and Cromwell has indirectly employed him to drain the Fens, the Levels of the title between Ely and the North Sea coast But lo and behold, a woman has got in the way The book proves itself woke yeuch about colonial thoughts, and the use of slave labour as Cromwell was wont to use, but with or without the additional scenes in later New York as the Dutch quite quickly lost hold on that city, it still provides with a very strong and enjoyable narrative Until it changes, for a woman has got in the way Yes, it s better on the Fens than on Feminism, but it s still worth considering. A magnificent achievement by the author The book is well researched and historically accurate, but the facts do not take over from the story Set partly in England at the end of the Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and partly in New Amsterdam as it is taken over by the English and renamed New York, the story follows Jan Brunt, a Dutch engineer, who works on the draining of the Fens and later goes to America Throughout the book the characters, whether overseers, Irish and Scottish lalourers and prisoners, Fen folk, indentured laborers in the New World or landowners are true to life The novel is a love story but it is much than that It is a story of its time. I would totally recommend this book The context of fenland Britain alternating with New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century was totally absorbing a kind of Graham Swift s Waterland meets Francis Spufford s Golden Hill You learn so much, while also relishing the author s wise comments on human nature, seamlessly interwoven.My one comment might be on the structure, and the late intervention of the female protagonist s point of view I think I might have preferred the single viewpoint of the Dutch engineer, with whom we d become so familiar I loved this book, partly because it s evocative of the fen landscape I know so well, partly because it s so well written and its characters so acutely drawn I d have given it 5 stars if it had managed to retain that consistency right to the end, but I d still highly recommend it.