The Idle Angler by Kevin Parr
The Medlar Press £18, out now
Review by Jon Berry.
I rarely read angling books these days. It is not that there aren’t new things to be said, but I’ve found precious few examples of writers actually saying them. Aside from Yates’ Lost Diary, I haven’t been excited about a forthcoming angling book in quite some time.
An exception is this new book by Kev Parr. I first heard about it during a drunken conversation at Port Eliot in 2012. The author wasn’t there, but an agent and a publisher were, and they were both convinced that it would find a home at one of the big publishing houses. We’d heard a little of what Kev was planning, and agreed that he was just the man to see it through. But more of that later.
It didn’t end up at one of the London companies after all, and instead landed in the hands of Jon Ward-Allen at The Medlar Press. Whilst this may not bode quite as well in terms of sales, it has resulted in a beautifully-made book. The reputation of The Medlar Press in producing exquisite work is second-to-none in angling publishing, and this is no exception.
The Idle Angler is Kev Parr’s search for fishing’s soul. It’s a common theme in current angling writing – Gierach, most notably, has made a lifelong career of it – and Parr wisely approaches it with simplicity, humour and self-deprecation. The Idle Angler follows the chronology of a day on the river, but with frequent meanders down interesting side streams. There are references to previous writers as diverse as Samuel Pepys and Gilbert White, and more than a few mentions too of his fishing partner, Chris.
And it is here that Parr’s book might have fallen down. The Chris he refers to his one Mr Yates, and the temptation to adopt the voice and style of his good friend must have been considerable. But that’s not Kev Parr. His first book, The Twitch (Unbound) was a caustic satire set in the world of extreme bird watching, all profanity and casual sex (yes, really) whilst his writing for The Idler magazine has long demonstrated an easy intelligence bordering on…well, idleness. This was never going to be a typical angling memoir, and it doesn’t read like Yates – rather a bastard hybrid of Hugh Tempest Sheringham and a self-sufficient anarchist.
The author’s credentials as an idler are beyond question. In addition to the blissed-out and timeless lethargy that is the company of Chris Yates, Parr can boast a career trajectory that might be described as a joyful downward spiral from corporate wage slave to foraging work-dodger, and an approach to angling that is as much about the slow journey to the river as it is the fish themselves. Parr’s world is just different. In his own words:
‘To idle successfully one must not simply be lazy. Idleness is a state of mind. Being lazy takes effort and avoidance whereas idleness is the release of that part of our self within which we feel most at ease and most content.’
That contentment is found on every page, but there is much too that readers will find provocative and challenging. Parr explores depths rarely plumbed in angling writing, examining its philosophies and idiosyncrasies in a way that is hugely engaging. This is fishing – not necessarily as we know it, but as most of us would want it to be. The Idle Angler offers a uniquely entertaining and articulate manifesto that can only bring joy.