(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Thorpe is concerned with the minutiae of historical and social change, what he calls “the rich tilth of an unrecorded history.” A poet, Thorpe reconstructs with rich and remarkable authenticity the languages of the past, each of the twelve episodes being narrated in one or more spoken or written voices of the participants, ranging from seventeenth century Puritanism to a contemporary film script. Some episodes have a strong narrative line; others are practically plotless; and some require the reader, like an archaeologist, to piece together an ambiguous story from fragments.

ULVERTON opens in 1650 when a returning veteran of Cromwell’s army is murdered by his wife and the man she married while he was away. In 1989, the victim’s skeleton is unearthed by a descendant of the murderers constructing a development that will help spoil what remains of old Ulverton. In the ten intervening episodes, we encounter a sin-obsessed clergyman, a farmer obsessed with improving fertilizer while his wife goes insane and he carries on an affair with a servant, an adulterous aristocratic wife, an illiterate mother whose son awaits hanging for supposedly stealing a hat, an elderly carpenter cadging drinks by telling about fooling his workaholic master, a group of rebellious agricultural workers on trial in 1830 for smashing farm machinery, a woman photographer in 1859, a ploughman reminiscing about village life, the excavation of a prehistoric barrow during the...

(The entire section is 405 words.)