Benjamin Myers is a critically acclaimed writer most well-known for his innovative and atmospheric novel ‘The Gallows Pole’ which is set in the Calder Valley. Under the Rock is an exploration and memoir of the same area of Yorkshire, based on the 15 years or so since Myers made his home there.
What fascinates Myers is the connection between the land and the people who live there; the impact of the people on the land and the influence of the environment on the people. Behind his house looms Scout Rock, a minor landmark, fenced off in recent years, with its own history as a quarry, a beauty spot and, in living memory, a rubbish dump, where notoriously, in the 1950’s, large amounts of asbestos where buried. Asbestos has harmed and killed many people who worked nearby at Acre Mill until it was closed down, and this tragic memory lingers over Scout Rock making it an ominous presence in the minds of many locals.
Myers walks and walks, in all weathers and seasons over valleys, literally immersing himself in rivers and lakes. As he becomes part of the community, he gets to know people with intimate knowledge of the valley, researches deeply into minor points of interest and avidly reads historical and contemporary sources. History, myth and anecdote are given equal weight. There is a randomness to his narrative that reflects real life and a sense of the accretion of all the human knowledge and activity forming its own geological layer.
Myers deftly weaves a wealth of detail in to the narrative clearly and fluently but also some beautiful, lyrical writing evoking his own response to the valley. He is not a romantic writer; the blunt realities of life in this landscape are acknowledged and celebrated, most powerfully when he describes the terrible floods of 2015.
This is an original and richly rewarding book. There is an honesty and genuine rootedness to Myers which is appealing and his talent and skill to interweave the personal, historical and creative layers distinctively makes for a deeply satisfying read.