These are novels that, in their attentive, slow-building descriptions of a seasonal, rural world, attempt to reconnect us with something we’ve mostly lost: a sense of the rhythm of the natural realm and our place in it. By tying the publication of his books to a singular point on the calendar, Pears manages the neat trick of creating a physical connection between form and content; of amplifying the message of his books through the act of reading them. And with The Redeemed, that connection is intensified: the sense of homecoming that came with picking up the latest volume this month is echoed and augmented by the story between its covers. In the final book of Pears’s trilogy, his wanderers are returning.
In marked contrast to the gentle, poetic pace of the first two novels, where, with a handful of exceptions (such as a thunderously enjoyable description of a gypsy horse race), what plot there was served as little more than a frame for the landscape, some remarkable nature writing and the odd snippet of thoughtful rustic dialogue, The Redeemed throws readers into the maw of historical events... Despite this shift in narrative gear, all that readers will have enjoyed from the first two novels remains... Pears could not quite commit to transforming what is an immensely enjoyable and carefully written love story into something more deliberately profound. But it is hard not to admire his unflinching approach to bygone rural life... In the end, even if it is hard to be sure what we learn from Leo and Lottie’s converging lives, Pears’s trilogy, with its sparse, gentle prose, is a quiet delight.
The author’s language is as spare and evocative as ever – Leo, smelling the sweat of men readying for battle, realises the musky, rank stench comes from “deeper pores, primitive glands, some true authentic depth of their being” – and his eye for the telling detail is undiminished: “the carter tugged with all his force, and the fore-leg was yanked and ripped off the body of the dead foal so abruptly that it came slithering out of the vagina of the mare and the carter staggered backwards across the wet straw of the loose box with the severed limb, like a man astounded by what he’d been given, struggling to retain his balance”.
Pears is a master storyteller, and like many other masters of the picaresque – Dumas for instance – is sufficiently confident of his ability to have his readers follow him wherever he goes to be able for the most part to dispense with plot. That said, there is one contrivance leading to a misunderstanding which is reminiscent of the sort of plot device employed by Hardy – for instance, the letter in Tess which is slid under the door only to disappear under a rug. In The Redeemed a comparable misapprehension will prolong the separation of Leo from Lottie.
All this time Pears has been pretending to be simply a literary novelist who beautifully expresses the old ways of England. He certainly is that, but with The Redeemed he proves himself equally adept at writing action and romance cleverly devoid of sensationalism and melodrama. He controls the tension of Leo and Lottie’s will-they-won’t-they love affair, and woe betide anyone who interrupts the reader as this fine book reaches its conclusion.
Pears gives us military history, veterinary science, sociology, theology, even an old recipe for Christmas cake, and makes it all sparkle like new. Moreover, he honours the kind of deep and tender love that can redeem even a soul ravaged by war, and concludes this wonderful series of novels on an important note of hope for mankind.