STRAYING FROM THE PATHWAYS / AUTHOR: STEPHEN PRINCE / PUBLISHER: A YEAR IN THE COUNTRY / RELEASE DATE: 28TH OCTOBER
When Stephen Prince began his A Year in the Country project a little over five years ago, it was one strand of a loosely-connected clump of threads that has become knotted in its centre around the term “hauntology.” Borrowing from Jacques Derrida’s definition of a world so paralysed by its uncertain future that it begins to look longingly to its past (and, particularly, past speculations about the future), hauntology is concerned with things belonging to the fringes of a fuzzy past, and Straying from the Pathways is chock full of such treasures, both well-known and obscure.
Prince released his first A Year in the Country collection – Wandering Through Spectral Fields – in April last year, and those who liked his first book will be equally delighted with this second dip into folk culture. Running the gamut from A Very Peculiar Practice to Massive Attack, and calling at all stations in between, the twelve chapters tackle their subjects in an accessible yet scholarly manner, never shying away from often weighty concepts but never using unnecessarily complex language when simple terms will do.
Many of the TV shows, books, music and film that Prince covers in his year-long trip into the edgelands will be familiar to casual adherents to hauntology; Nigel Kneale, Ghost Box Records, The Detectorists and John Wyndham are staples of the haunted generation’s interests. But there is also much here to surprise even seasoned aficionados, as Prince weaves the miners’ strike, John Carpenter, hypnagogic pop and even Blade Runner into his stained tapestry, tying up some very loose ends into a solid knot of unified theory.
This is a book that can either be devoured in one sitting or taken as needed, with each chapter often subdivided into the artefacts discussed. At under 250 pages, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, rather enticing the reader to continue what it began, searching for the things – and they’re as wide-ranging as historical events, prize-winning novels, mp3-only music releases, and photobooks of short-lived obscure fashion trends – that Prince appraises.
Simply put, A Year in the Country: Straying from the Pathways is a delight, and will thrill existing seekers of hauntological fare as well as serve as an introductory hit to those yet to sample its enchantments. As the world, and particularly this Albion, descends into madness and chaos, looking back to move forward is becoming the thing to do, and it’s wonderful to have such company to do it in.