Book Review: Certain Manoeuvres

“You spend all your time with the few people that you know who almost speak your language.”

Certain Manoeuvres, by Lydia Unsworth, is a collection of prose poetry that delves into the disconnects felt while journeying through time and place. The linear narrative reports from the perspective of increasing ages.

There are memories of when a good time involved the over consumption of alcohol, seeking oblivion and accepting the aftermath as a story to be edited and later savoured. There are times spent at home, purposely hiding within walls, ignoring callers at the door.

The observations have a detached quality despite penetrating the minutiae of lived experience. There is a study of location, a seeking out of hidden corners, a questioning as to why the narrator has chosen to be wherever they currently are. Is pleasure in a place contrived due to expectation? Are photographs collected for a future boast, a tick on a bucket list? There is a need to conform, to appreciate a vaunted feature that the journey undertaken to get there will have been worthwhile.

Significant travels, events and encounters are remembered alongside acknowledgement that more also occurred. In later meetups, when others raise a shared experience significant to them of which the narrator has no recollection, there is pretence to avoid a contribution appearing unimportant. We each curate our personal histories.

“There is no such thing as exploration. Everywhere you have ever been acts as magnet for every step you are about to take.”

As time passes travels are less novel, jaded, locations merging – something like it has been seen before. A tour guide creates the stories others will absorb and take home. As time passes the journeying becomes a chore.

“I want to go to the tourist office and tell them I’ve got twenty-four hours. I want them to tell me that the best thing to do would be just go and sit down.”

Appreciation of cities is pondered – the history, gentrification, how it outlives a person even before they die. In moving along life’s travelator, gathered possessions become less important, an encumbrance. Memories so assiduously collected are no longer worth what they once were.

The collection offers a window into a series of moments and how perceptions change over time. It explores what it is to be here, now, amongst others, at locations cherished yet no longer truly observed.

One poem talks of a death, of a choice made to detach from the world and the impact this has when it is not yet known.

“They found him when his direct debits stopped transacting. Until then nobody noticed the smell. Nobody noticed the absence. Nor, therefore, we deduce, the presence.”

Travel is undertaken because it offers a maybe, the potential for something more. The lessons, ultimately, are for the traveller alone.

The spare, concise writing is both engaging and quietly devastating, peeling back comforting veneers, questioning how we exist in the now. It pulses with buried emotion. It is of our time.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, The Knives Forks And Spoons Press.