1 out of 4 stars
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A Doublet: Willie & Tingle Maze, by Trufin Hatch, is an enigma to me. I'm not sure what I expected, given the main character is a sea-faring trout, but I know that what I got definitely wasn't it. The opening captivated me with its poetry, and I settled in for a cosy, lyrical read with the occasional falter in meter, but generally sublime prose. That's where Hatch's skill lies, and it's pretty obvious to see. There are a few recurrent spelling issues, such as “two and fro” and incorrect use of “it's”, which can be distracting, but the writing beyond those is very clean.
The story follows the life of Willie, a trout, from his hatching in south-west England, through his misadventures in adolescence, and into adulthood. He encounters a whole cast of river- and sea-faring creatures such as otters, other trouts, and salmon, and is used almost as a framing device for a local history anthology. Therein lies the rub. On the book's amazon listing, it proudly proclaims its status as a 'regional best-seller', and I can believe it. The book is chock-full of place names, and features of local geography, and even human characters from the region, all of which are utterly dumbfounding to readers who don't know the region inside and out. I spent the majority of the book totally bewildered as to what is happening, where it's happening, and whom it's happening to, simply because I grew up in the Midlands, not in the West Country.
Aside from being robbed of any sense of locale by the author deeming name-drops sufficient, the language used can be baffling. I know nothing about fish; I couldn't pick a pike from a trout, and yet Hatch seemingly takes it for granted that everyone knows what he means by a 'par' or a 'grilse'. Frequently it was impossible for me to tell when a character was being referred to by an epithet, to avoid reusing their name, and when an entirely new character or kind of fish had appeared. For much of the book, I felt like I was dreaming, where scenes took place in vague, blurry locales with characters that could simultaneously be about four different species, depending on what a particular word I'd never seen before meant.
Then we have to tackle the issue of local dialect. As someone who's intensely interested in accents and dialects throughout the UK, I was pretty happy about being able to see the inner workings of the West Country dialect, although I doubt it could have been handled with any less deft. Hatch frequently tortures the English language into being nigh unreadable, and does it so often that I began dreading every piece of dialogue. A glossary is included, but it's not hugely helpful in ebook format, because flicking back and forth to those pages can be a royal pain. Again, I can see this going down very well with those from the area, who obviously have an incredible advantage in reading it. The rest of us are left struggling with paragraphs upon paragraphs that are on par with Chaucer in clarity.
Hatch is plainly a talented writer, but simply makes too many assumptions about his reader's knowledge. Perhaps they're not unfair assumptions given that it is, fundamentally, a book written for a specific area, but I don't think they've done him any favours here. If he turned his talents to poetry, or even novels with much broader general appeal, I think he could do very well, and I'm honestly interested in taking a look at any other stuff he's written or will write in the future.
I give A Doublet: Willie & Tingle Maze 1 out of 4 stars. If you happen to be from the area, with a keen knowledge of fish, then this book is written for you. If you're not, and most of us aren't, there's pretty much nothing here for you. I don't think this is an indictment, because every book has its target audience but at the end of the day, this book's is small and takes no prisoners.
A Doublet: Willie & Tingle Maze
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