Review: “To The River” by Olivia Laing

All rivers flow to the sea, but no idea, where they can take you, if followed. After a painful breakup, the author starts a week long journey. In a midsummer week she packs her bag and walks along the River Ouse in Yorkshire, from the source to the sea.

“To The River: A Journey Beneath The Surface” is written by British author Olivia Laing, and is her first book, published in 2011, after many years of reviewing books by others for newspapers and magazinesOlivia Laing holds a degree in herbal medicine and she practiced as a herbalist for several years before becoming a journalist, specialising in treatment of anxiety and depression. Descriptions of riverside flora are some of the many gems of this magical book.

“To The River” is a story of the River Ouse and the layered history on its banks. It is a book on the mystery of water. “I’m haunted by waters,” flows the opening line. Virginia Woolf drowned in the River Ouse at age of 59. Early spring, fur coat pockets filled with stones, wearing Wellington boots. Decisions seem unavoidable only in biographies. Life is more layered than that and is hardly ever explainable. Olivia Laing has the delicate touch not to smooth out the wrinkles in known stories.

Virginia Woolf is one of the main currents in this book, but not the only one. Laing digs through the many skins of the Ouse as deep as prehistoric time goes, when the land of Great Britain was covered in tropical plants. One of the stories is about Gideon Mantell, geologist who discovered the big lizard in the territory of the Ouse, later known as a dinosaur. Another tells about Kenneth Grahame who wrote “The Wind in the Willows”. Many kids have grown up with this novel, while Grahame failed to grow up himself and lead a tragic life. Mythological underworlds and ghosts of the river banks are flushed away with historic floods, sheep drown in meadows.

Olivia Laing is a disarming and honest travel companion with a wonderful sense of humour. She throws away her “hated shoes” when her feet hurt bad after walking “like an idiot” in a hot day without any socks on. She starts to feel sick after swimming in a polluted part of the river and all she wants is to stand beneath a cold shower “for a year” to wash the phosphates away. She doesn’t feel safe in woods and admits with a shame her fear from cows. But all the ego business drops away when Laing is swallowed by deep moments in the boundless nature.

As a reader you somehow await, when the author will start to untangle her broken relationship and mend the pain with shared epiphanies. But once again you meet with her delicate touch not to smooth out anything with a wishful haste. Now and then like a blue dragonfly she touches the surface of water and reflects on nature of memories, on feeling anxious and sad, but doesn’t dwell on it too much. Till in the last part of the book Olivia Laing admits feeling more safe, after walking alone for so many days and barely speaking to anyone.

During the book the reader is filled with the healing potion of proportion, where nature and epochs are so immense, that you realise how magically tiny you are. All you are left with, all that matters now is to be home – in each and every moment, wherever you are. On your journey beneath the surface.

“To The River: A Journey Beneath The Surface” Olivia Laing, Canongate, 2011

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Upe ved uz jūru. Tomēr nav ne jausmas, kur vari nonākt, tai sekojot. Pēc sāpīgas šķiršanās grāmatas autore saulgriežu nedēļā sapako mugursomu un vasaras kveldē kājām iet gar Ūzas upi Jorkšīrā. No strauta līdz grīvai.

“Uz upi: Ceļojums zem virsmas” ir britu rakstnieces Olīvijas Langas pirmā grāmata. Līdz tam viņa daudzus gadus recenzēja citu darbus. Bet vēl pirms kļuva par žurnālisti, Langa apguva un praktizēja alternatīvo medicīnu, ar augiem ārstējot trauksmi un depresiju.

Grāmata ir stāsts par vēsturi Ūzas krastos un par ūdeni kā noslēpumu. “Esmu apsēsta ar ūdeni,” skan pirmais teikums. Šajā upē 59 gadu vecumā noslīka Virdžīnija Vulfa. Agrs pavasaris, kažoka kabatās akmeņi, kājās Wellington zābaki. Lēmumi tikai biogrāfijās ieguļas kā loģiski, taču pati dzīve ir daudzslāņaina un nemaz ne tik izskaidrojama.

Virdžīnija Vulfa ir viena no grāmatas straumēm, bet ne vienīgā. Ūzas slāņus Langa atrok līdz pat aizvēsturei, kad Lielbritānijā zaļoja tropiskas papardes. Stāsts par ģeologu Gidonu Mantelu, kurš Ūzas teritorijā atklāja milzu ķirzaku, pirmo dinozauru. Par “Vējš vītolos” autoru Kenetu Greiemu, kurš nekad nespēja pieaugt. Mitoloģiskas aizspogulijas un upes krastu rēgi, kurus aizskalo vēsturiski plūdi, aitām noslīkstot pļavās.

Olīvija Langa atbruņo kā ceļabiedrs, kas neiztaisās. Kad uzberztas tulznas, viņa koka pavēnī aizmet zandales, bet, nopeldoties piesārņotā upes posmā, uz atlikušo dienu dabūn sliktu dūšu, un viss, ko Langa vēlas, ir “gadu stāvēt dušā”, lai noskalotu fosfātus. Viņa jūtas neomulīgi mežā, bet paniskas bailes izraisa govis. Melnā humora izjūta, savveida aizsargs, izkūp, kad Langa noguļas uz vēdera un kā bērns, zodu atspiedusi, vēro, kā krastā izurbinātos caurumos spieto bites. Dabas dimensija ievelk.

Lasot automātiski gaidi, kad autore sāks šķetināt sāpes, taču nekā, līdz pēdējās lapās Langa atzīst, ka jūtas drošāk. Lasītājā tiek iepludināta proporcija, kur daba un laikmeti ir kas tik ļoti liels, ka viss, kas mums atliek, ir būt mājās – šinī brīdī un punktā, lai kur mēs arī būtu. Ienirstot ceļojumā zem redzamā virskārtas.

“To The River: A Journey Beneath The Surface” Olivia Laing, Canongate, 2011