No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, September 24, 2012

2012/46: Boneland -- Alan Garner

"...it’s not so much deep space that concerns me as deep place. Once place is lost, you fall into history."
"And there’s no way out?"
"There’s no way out." [location 1385]

Colin knows too much and understands too little. He can recite, verbatim, pages from ornithology texts, and tell you what he was doing, thinking, feeling at any point in the last thirty years or so: but he can't remember anything from before he was thirteen.

Colin is broken after the events of the earlier books, and the final climactic thing that happened when he was twelve. His story, here, is about discovering his own past, step by step, guided by his psychiatrist Meg. (Perhaps she knows more than is feasible. Perhaps there's a reason for that.) Piece by piece it falls together. Perhaps if Garner had returned to the world of those earlier books sooner, he'd have written a novel that ended with Colin's catastrophic loss of memory. Instead, he's written a novel where that event is in the past, colouring and scorching everything that remains.

My stream-of-consciousness scrawl includes comparisons to Robert Holdstock's deep myth; resonances with the strong sense of place in Red Shift; Garner's playfulness -- Colin's dwarfs are not the dwarfs we met in Weirdstone, but astronomical anomalies; holly everywhere, and crows; Bert in his High Castle; Meg as one of Three; Susan's fate, the Pleiades; motorways (Red Shift again: and again with 'blue, silver, blue silver') ... I want to read through the nameless shaman's narrative again, undistracted by Colin's epiphanies, and root myself in that story of isolation and duty: I suspect it ties in with some of my recent non-fiction reading.

Like many of Garner's readers, I first encountered Colin in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: I returned to that earlier book (and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath) in order to understand this one. It's still ... opaque. I believe I understand most of the actual events in the novel, but there are levels of allusion that I've missed. Maureen Kincaid Speller's preliminary notes helped me make the connection to Gawain and the Green Knight (I knew there was something about the phrase 'governor of this gang' that rang a bell). There are some exceptionally insightful comments (and some familiar names <g>) on the Guardian reading group page. I suspect I shall be reading and rereading and cogitating for a long time yet.

1 comment:

  1. I've just finished this and am marshalling my thoughts for a review. I thought your comments are very insightful. It's some years since I read 'Red Shift' (soon after it came out, I seem to recall) so remember hardly anything about it, let alone the nuances of language. I half thought of re-reading his essays in 'The Voice that Thunders' first, but will have to do that soon, if only for Garner's descriptions of his first visits for psychological help.

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