Published: Amberley (UK) 2023
Part personal memoir, part cultural history, West is a compendium of ‘tales’, telling the story of a unique geographical and literary landscape – the western Midlands of England. It is a magpie’s nest, a melange of anecdotes, folk legends, ghost stories and fairy tales. But more than this, it is a record of a land and its people, told over 2,000 years of history – a land that birthed both industrial and cultural revolutions. A native of the area, Martin Wall takes us on a search for lost time in the Lost Lands of the west, charting the liminal energies which have so influenced our literature – and himself. Shamelessly nostalgic, sometimes tender, sometimes brutal, these tales invite us to immerse ourselves in the past, present and future, to become ‘unstuck in time’. How were the lands ‘lost’? The author laments the decline and fall of a succession of cultures, from the Celtic principality of Pengwern and the mighty kingdom of Mercia to the end of heavy industry in the late twentieth century. With a thoughtful foreword by Robert Plant, West takes history to a new imaginative edge.
An eclectic journey
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 02 April 2023
Another fascinating read from Martin Wall. By chance, I started reading Geoff Dyers book, The last days of Roger Federer and other endings immediately after this, and found the two books on the same strange wavelength. The historical characters: poets, writers, mystics and all, stand out, but also seem to touch each other across Time; and Time is a central concern of this book: how we see it now, how they saw it then, and how it comes to an end for different cultures who don’t take pains to attend to their history, their roots.
West is where the soul journeys to at death, according to the Druidic teachings, which the author was steeped in from a young age, mainly from his parents as he tells us in the ‘Wild Wood’ for instance, one of the books tales, concerning his early years growing up in and around Kinver, where much of the book flows to and from. It’s also the area the book deals with: the West Midlands, Shropshire, through to Wales and Ireland. And a Civilisation in terrible decline.
You could see this as a group of short stories, tales, films or chapters that merge into one whole. Regardless, it’s a wonderfully touching journey through a world that is the Author’s own as well as the culture that surrounds him and all of us. One that we shouldn’t lose touch with, and why would we want to?
[Amazon Customer – Five Stars]
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 28 March 2023
A must buy for anyone who lives or grew up west of Brum, a mythological/historical meander through the landscape and legends of the west midlands and marches, and very much a personal pilgrimage for the author.
The west midlands we all should know, peopled with semi legendary characters and indistinct spiritual entities viewed from afar or fleetingly in the wooded glade, and all under the watchful repose of Sabrina goddess of the mighty Severn.
[Amazon Customer – Five Stars]
Myth, history, personal memoir, fiction. As seen from North Worcestershire.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 28 February 2023
Even more than its predecessor, The Magical History of Britain, West: Tales of the Lost Lands will appeal to those who have the very specific belief that the western midlands of England – Worcestershire, Staffordshire and parts of Warwickshire – are in some way haunted. This belief is manifest throughout the book, which makes no sustained effort to convince the sceptical and will, consequently, have little appeal for those who are not prepared at least to suspend their disbelief until the final page. However, for those who are, if only temporarily, happy to try out Martin Wall’s locally specific mixture of faiths and folklore, there is much to enjoy.
The book is quite content to switch mid chapter – sometimes mid-paragraph – between myth, history, personal memoir and fiction; its intention is synthesis, not analysis. Much of the history is convincing enough and the memoir varies from the touching to the very funny to the frankly bizarre. Some passages will strongly appeal to readers of fiction by Archie Hill, Kerry Hadley-Pryce and Joel Lane.
The oddest things in the book are the overtly fictional chapters. The first of these, narrated by the medieval poet Layamon, is most impressive, reminiscent of the Alan Moore of Voice of the Fire and almost as good: we are left with little doubt that the England of King John was little different to Amin’s Uganda or Pol-Pot’s Cambodia. The second, set in Roman times, is the one chapter in the whole book that’s likely to puzzle most readers: its attempt to evoke the collective consciousness of the druidic belief system by switching between first and third person narrative is not wholly successful. The third fictional part, set in a credibly grim near future, is again reminiscent of Alan Moore – though this time of V for Vendetta.
The overall tone of the book is summed up in the word ‘lost’; there’s a sense throughout of things passing and decaying. What exactly is being lost is not always clear: Wall never painted a rose-tinted picture of the area’s past in his previous books and he doesn’t start now. But I sense an anger that the promise of something like Raymond Williams’ ‘common culture’ has grown less attainable over the past forty years. The current collapse of the role of the humanities in education suggests he may not be far wrong.
I live in the same area as Martin Wall and have an attitude to it that’s not entirely unlike his. I could not help but read the book from two widely different perspectives – one, prepared to enjoy its charms and not worry too much whether or not the Goddess Sabrina was in any sense real; the other, all-too aware of the groans and complaints that many parts of it would inspire in the sceptically-minded, evidence-based historian.
If the latter position is yours, perhaps you’d better look elsewhere. However, if you’re closer to the former, you can dive into this one expecting that it will resonate.
[Amazon Customer – Five Stars]