A Book Review

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Common Ground
by Rob Cowen
Hutchinson, 352 pages, published today

Reviewed by Ben Myers 

Space will be the great commodity of the next century. Space in which to breathe, to reflect. Space in which to live externally – that is, looking up and down and all around and feeling part of an environment that you can carry home on your mud clotted shoes, dirt-flecked trousers and wire-ripped jacket. In your hair and under your fingernails. An environment you can touch and eat, burrow into, slip down, swim through and watch over, rather than existing in the internalised sphere of the digital world, that strange and alien young planet perpetually half-shadowed and blaring with white noise.

It’s too early to register the true, long-lasting sociological effects that the digital world is having upon human behavioural patterns but this much is certain: we have drifted away from our moorings. We are in unchartered waters and it is not looking good; we can trade millions of pounds but can’t light a fire. Worldwide, the environment – and many of its species – are in decline; happiness, health and welfare are increasingly reliant on financial or economic success and depression is reaching epidemic levels. You know all this.

So does Rob Cowen, who found for himself a space where others saw nothing but a hinterland, a place of inconsequence defined by pylons, litter, dog shit. Somewhere usually viewed at speed from passing trains or cars. Here in this liminal space on the edge of Harrogate, to where he and his wife had relocated from London, Cowen discovered a new realm in which to explore worlds both internal and external – and it is very much a realm, one given new life heightened, lucid prose that drips with poetry, where the River Nidd “splits over a the weir like Brylcreem-parted black hair”.

Read the full review here

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