March 16, 2012 9:50 pm

Real inheritance

A child’s naive commentary on family disputes forms a lyrical social chronicle

Disputed Land, by Tim Pears, Windmill, RRP£7.99, 210 pages


Thirteen-year-old Theo relishes Christmas at his grandparents’ old pile on the Wales-Shropshire border, to which Grandma has summoned her three children’s families to discuss their inheritance. Theo’s dad, a frugal Oxford academic, is repulsed by Uncle Jonny’s profligate materialism. Aunty Gwen is trying for a baby with her new girlfriend, which prompts an acid riposte from Grandma – not on sexuality but overpopulation.

Such exchanges build a subtle sense of dismay at planetary stewardship that drifts through the family bickering, giving this lyrical novel the political gravity of Pears’ earlier social chronicles that played out bold themes of personal and public morality. Theo’s eavesdropping and naive commentary shapes the narrative, but a stronger sense of cumulative loss arises from the author’s ability to evoke a sense of place and heritage. The “disputed land” is family territory and chattels but also the world’s future – Theo’s real inheritance.

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