Collecting Sticks

By Joe Decie
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9781910702734

Glamping. That’s glamorous camping. It seems to take in everything from luxuriuos Bedouin tents to converted barns. For those not enamoured with camping it just might be enough to tempt you, as was the case with Joe Decie’s family, although a shack in the woods with a questionable toilet lacks a little of the glam that’s promised.

We follow the family from the point of booking to the moment they leave for home. It’s but a short break, but is filled with the well-observed nuances of family life, not to mention the fish-out-of-water coping strategies of suburbanites in a rural setting.

With no TV or wifi they’re there to embrace nature and relax, although Joe’s anxiety about everything from burglary to spiders keeps intruding on his thoughts, while nature doesn’t always play along. Also, it gets dark earlier than you think with no electric lights about.

While Joe’s son is collecting sticks, Joe’s picking up old bottle tops (“for eBay”). Fire-building proves tricky, trees aren’t as easy to climb and the weather doesn’t always play ball. It’s not idyllic, but nobody’s holiday ever is. This book’s success is in its ability to capture the little moments of family interaction, personal angst and oddity that we can all relate to.

The story is based on real events but acknowledges it occassionally skews off into fantasy, but good comedy often comes from a real event taken to its extreme. There’s no rambling dialogue or lengthy exchanges, but instead just snatches of phrases and observations that cleverly, and wittily, catch the moment.

Adulthood is thrust upon us, but the wonders of childhood are always there for us to explore. Decie manages to echo both your childhood and your adult self with a satisfying warmth. A really wonderful book.

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