It’s my own fault. The cover was plain enough: ‘Winner of the Walter Scott Prize’; ‘Historical fiction at its best’. And I never read historical fiction. So what was I doing with a copy of Benjamin Myers’ “The Gallows Pole”? I mean, really?
And early doors my initial fears appeared to be justified. Some the language seemed just a little over-indulgent, as if it was trying to prove it was ‘historical’. And yet contrary to that, didn’t one or two of those same phrases seem a little out-of-place, a little too ‘modern’? Did they really say that over two-hundred years ago?
But then, wait a minute… From being reasonably certain I wasn’t going to get through the book, I found myself making decent progress; and then – horrors! – I actually started to enjoy it. ‘A rattling good yarn’, you might say.
So credit to Myers. Putting my phobia of historical fiction aside, I actually enjoyed the story, and found myself won over by the depiction of late-ish 18th Century Yorkshire. The desolation of the landscape, the impoverishment of the people, the brutality of their lives – it all comes across.
I’m not, of course, a convert to the genre – that would be going too far! – but I made it through to the grisly and morally / socially complex ending. Which says more about Mr. Myers’ talent than it does me, of course…