Mark Boyle may be known to you as the Moneyless Man; after the financial crash in 2008, he decided to live for a year without exchanging anything for money. Not being paid, nor paying money for anything either. I vaguely followed his journey back then.
A couple of years ago, Mark Boyle decided he would give up technology and live a “simple life” on his smallholding in Ireland. Not just giving up his phone and social media, but all technology. No electricity, no landline phone. An interesting premise for any book and so I was keen to get an ARC via Netgalley, which I then very ironically read on my ereader…
Naturally, a book like this invites people to feel attacked, anyone who ever steps out of the norm and declares they want a different life has the potential to make people who don’t do the same feel as if judgement is passed on their life and that someone like Mark Boyle is looking down on them. Yet, I hope people go into this book not thinking that or reacting that way, because I fear they may miss a wonderful opportunity to be inspired. I found it both an enlightning reading experience as well as a good moment to look at myself and see where I could do more. No plans to move to a smallholding at present, but we can all do better and must all do better if we want to save the planet (and us, because let’s face it if we are gone, the planet is going to be just fine).
I think what immediately drew me in was how he approached it: No dogma, just exploration. The best things are started like this in my opinion. Too many rules set you up for failure or as Mark Boyle puts it:
On top of that, those years taught me that rules have a tendency to set your life up as a game to win, a challenge to overcome, creating kind of black and white scenarios our society leans towards.
The book is written like a diary and yes, without a computer, putting pen to paper. Boyle reflects a lot on this slower writing process, but after some time he feels that this new pace improves his writing. I cannot judge this as I have not read any of his other books, but I can see how “thinking twice, writing once” makes a nice change from the write a rubbish first draft and then start writing the actual book preaching, we have come to accept and although I know this to be true for myself, I also know that a lot of writers have written in a more deliberate way.
The year was not plain sailing that’s for sure. He missed calling his parents and hearing their voice. Jobs that a machine could have done in minutes took hours or days. He went from being vegan to being a meat and fish eater again and that required quite some soul searching.
He started this journey with his partner Kirsty and how that ends, you will have to find out for yourself. Kirsty, or rather the lack of her in the narrative of his reflections, is the one thing that I would found missing in this book. As a woman, I found it interesting (and alarming) how easily the couple slipped into established gender roles: Mark out with this axe creating his environment, tending to his land, shaping his universe, while at home in the self-built hut, Kirsty tends to the hearth. He does comment on it once, briefly, but this was an aspect that I would have liked him to explore more. Did he really not see this more, did this really not bother him? The thought that a return to a simpler life would render women consigned back into the kitchen, really gave me something to think about and Kirsty’s absence in the narrative for long stretches, made me worried that this ideal he was creating would ultimately lead to another silencing of women, women absent from the overall narrative: seen but not heard. There was so much I wanted to know about this journey from Kirsty, that part of me hopes that she will write her side of it at some point.
The lack of rules he set himself meant that he was making it up as he went along and I think that was the charm of the book. He is often conflicted in his choices. Often unhappy with the compromise he has to make. Yet, I think, this is what stopped this book from becoming too preachy. Yes, Boyle judges society, but he also does not claim he has got it all figured out.
It is rather hard work: There is no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
As for me and my reaction: Boyle has inspired me. Maybe not in the way he intended. We are not going to move to a smallholding in Ireland, no returning to the husband’s roots. We lack the skills. I lack the health. But we shall push forward with the changes we have made, the way we feel we can make a difference. And yes, there is so much more we can do and I think I needed that kick in the behind.
Here is a little video about the book.
The book is coming out 4th April 2019.