Blenheim Orchard by Tim Pears
24/03/07, The Sunday Telegraph
Ezra Pepin’s Oxford DPhil on the Achia Indians of Paraguay has remained unfinished for over twelve years. In the meantime, he has fathered three children with the feisty, lefty-activist Sheena: thirteen-year old Blaise, poised on the threshold of rebellious adolescence; slow, cerebral, precocious and slightly anxious Hector, eleven years old; and little Louie, three, a sweet, playful child. The marriage is happy and stable; if not anything, they seem to have a hell of a lot of sex for a couple married for well over a decade. They live in Bleinheim Gardens in north-west Oxford. Ezra works as a junior manager at Isis Water, a job to support his family, not one that is his consuming passion. Sheena, meanwhile, has started a travel company with a twist, called Home Holidays, which has taken off quite brilliantly.
We see the family eat breakfast, wash, stack the dishwasher, cook meals, get on their bikes to work, kick ball with the children, we see Ezra and Sheena make love. We see them returning from work, interacting with their children, making pesto … did I mention making love? Er, that’s it. They’re friends with Simon and Minty Carlyle, their near-neighbours, who come for dinner. Then the Pepins go over to the Carlyles: life has rarely contained such excitement. The new CEO of Isis Water, a charismatic man called Klaus Kuuzik, wants Ezra on a hand-picked team whose purpose will be to change the world by selling bottled water in fancy packaging. No, really, I kid you not: they want World Peace, starting with that easy-peasy spot, Israel and the Middle East, by launching swish mineral water in Ramallah. But Sheena has other plans: she wants the whole family to move to Brazil so that Ezra can finish his anthropology thesis at last. What will happen? One waits with bated breath …
For some, Tim Pears’s fifth novel, Blenheim Orchard, will be a true, sensitive account of ordinary people and their ordinary lives, about people like us, as the blurb beckoningly suggests. Yet for others, especially for those who don’t buy the fallacy of equivalence – that a novel true to its depiction of, say, boredom, should bore its readers into catatonia – its infuriating inconsequentiality and endless eddying around in anaemic circles will prompt them to ask the question: who would have thought the old novel to have so little blood in it?