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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

2017/07: Hekla's Children -- James Brogden

"... how do you go back to mucking around in your garden with your, your petunias and your water features and whatever, when you know that two hundred and fifty thousand years of darkness is right under your feet, waiting to swallow you up?" [loc 1205]
Nathan Brookes's career as a teacher is ruined when, during an orienteering event in Sutton Park, four teenagers disappear into thin air. Nathan, who'd abandoned them briefly to talk to the colleague he was having an affair with, is blamed -- even when one of the four, Olivia, reappears. But she remembers nothing.
Ten years later Nathan is working as an outdoor pursuits instructor. He's haunted by visions of the three lost teenagers; he's lonely, directionless, messed up. When a body is found in Sutton Park he hopes that it will bring closure: but it's a Bronze Age 'bog body', not one of the missing pupils. Further investigation reveals something strange about the corpse. It seems to have been made up of parts from different people. It may have been a kind of ritual guardian. And one limb shows evidence of something unaccountable.

Like the corpse, this is a novel of different parts. The first half reminded me strongly of Tana French's In The Woods, one of my favourite novels. Then, after a brief, unpleasant discursion into gory Stephen King territory, it becomes more like Robert Holdstock's Lavondyss (another favourite). The author acknowledges a debt to Alan Garner; there are elements, too, of Mark Twain.

I found this a gripping read. It's not poetic or meditative, but it has a twisty plot and a lot of prehistory, anthropology and mythology. The second half of the novel feels rather rushed, as the focus (and the narrative's sympathy) turns away from Nathan and towards another character. But I didn't especially like or empathise with Nathan (though his fate is disproportionate to his actions). Brogden's female characters are interesting and distinct -- especially osteoarchaeologist Tara Doumani, daughter of Lebanese refugees, and Liv the survivor -- and in general more likeable than most of the males.

Note: the Hekla reference in the title refers, not to Mt Hekla's reputation as a gateway to Hell, but to the Hekla 3 eruption, circa 1000 BCE, which may have caused the Bronze Age collapse.

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