I just finished The Artisan of Ipswich by Robert Tarule, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it. Paul Sellers mentioned it as one of his top ten, and Chris Schwarz has reviewed it postively as well. While it was informative, it just set off a bunch of irritations in me. I’d still recommend it to others, but the writing style just really got on my nerves.
The book begins like a dissertation that’s been converted into a book, full of numbing statistics and details. I really enjoyed that part the most, oddly enough. But compared to say, Tudor Monastery Farm or Tales from the Green Valley, it was dry as toast.
What irritated me most was when it switched into storytelling mode to detail the construction of a particular oak chest. It was a fanciful telling, marred with constant references to what the maker intended and why they made the choices that the did. The switch in tone was abrupt, and just grating. I found myself screaming “You just can’t know that!” or “How dare you use a dead man as a puppet for your own voice!”
I have no doubt of Tarule’s credentials, or his theories regarding the way the artisan worked. I have the greatest admiration for those who work to recover historical working methods. It was simply a “voice” thing. If one builds a historical piece using their technologies, one does not become that person. There are things that a person simply can’t know.