Boneland by Alan Garner PDF, TXT, ePub, PDB, RTF, FB2.
Over 50 years ago Alan Garner wrote The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, two books of magic and myth, featuring the children Colin and Susan. They encounter a wizard who guards sleepers beneath the hills – Arthur and his knights, perhaps – sleepers who will wake to save us in our time of greatest need. The children encounter elves and dwarfs, goblins and killer cats, battle the evil shape-shifting Morrigan, and make their way through a patchwork of mythic events and battles, culminating, at the end of The Moon of Gomrath, with a Herne-like Hunter and his men riding their horses to meet the nine sisters of the Pleiades, leaving Susan, who needed to be with them, behind, wanting to go the stars, and Colin only to watch.
(There are well-drawn characters in those books, but they are not Colin or Susan. And the landscape of Alderley Edge is the strongest character.)
Garner continued creating mythic fantasy out of the matter of Britain, building, reimagining and recreating tales from the Mabinogion and from a hundred other sources, and then he began writing novels intended for adults, stories hewn and chipped from the past. (The past is always with us in Garner. The stones have stories.)
There was to be a third novel of Colin and Susan, but for fifty years Garner did not write it.
In Boneland, he also does not write it, although he describes it, implies it, tells us its shape. Instead he gives us, what? A fourth book? A coda? Either way, it is an adult novel about loss and history and memory and mind, a link between the present and prehistory, a place where everything Garner has made before comes together.
Colin has grown up to be a brilliant, but extremely troubled, astrophysicist. Susan is not there. Colin is autistic, has problems with memory (he remembers everything after the age of 13, nothing before), cannot relate to other humans, is searching the sky for intelligent life, and hunting for his sister in the stars. As the book begins he is being released from a hospital after some kind of breakdown.
Boneland is a realistic novel of landscape, inner and outer, past and present. It becomes a novel of the fantastic toward the end: perhaps old magics have risen to show Colin the way out, perhaps he has conjured them himself as he confronts his demons and his pain. I do not know if the conclusion of this book makes sense if you have not read the first two books, and I am not entirely certain whether reading the first two books will make it easier to read this one. Boneland demands a lot of the reader, either way. But it returns more than it demands.
The characters are well drawn – Meg, the too-good-to-be-true therapist and Bert, the salt of the earth taxi driver, linger in the memory long after the book is done. The Watcher, who provides the novels alternate point of view, gazing out from the caves of prehistory, gives us an affecting and powerful look at a mind ten thousand years away, and a way of looking at the world that is not ours, or Colin's. As the Watcher story intersects with Colin's story, the Weirdstone novels also conclude (although they conclude in negative space, as if we are seeing the after effects of events in a book unwritten) and Colin's story concludes with them.
Trying to express how and why Alan Garner is important is difficult. He does not write easy books. His children's books were powerful and popular, but never easy or comforting; his adult novels are lonely explorations of present and past. He is a master of taking the material of history, whether myths and stories or landscapes and artifacts, and building tales around them that feel, always, ultimately, right – as if, yes, this was how things were, this is how things are. He is a matter-of-fact fantasist, who builds his fantasies solid and real. Boneland feels like the book you write when you can no longer muster the belief in magic to write about elves and wizards in caves, but you can write about the older magics, the flint-knapping workings of ancient times, and you can believe in the power of the mind, and the crags and caves and outcrops, you can believe in the landscape, because the landscape is always there. And you can still believe in sleepers under hills, believe in the legend of the wizard buying a horse that began The Weirdstone of Brisingaman.
The words Garner chooses, carves, inserts into his prose are perfect. He deploys short, accurate words better than anyone else writing in English today, and he makes it look simple.
Boneland is the strangest, but also the strongest, of Alan Garner's books. It feels like a capstone to a career that has taken him, as a writer, to remarkable places, and returned him to the same place he started, to the landscape of Alderley Edge and to the sleepers under the hill.
I often see disparaging reviews (many of them of my own books) begin with 'I wanted to like this', it combines both a sense of personal disappointment in the author along with the double put-down of 'even with a following wind I couldn't like this'.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. This is more by way of personal disappointment in me rather than in Alan Garner. I see Neil Gaiman laud it and damnation I want to be as cool as he is and 'get' this book. I count myself as fairly literary, I love powerful, sparse, poetic prose. I'm not scared of literary or philosophical themes, and like the protagonist in this work I have one foot very firmly in science with the other sliding about in imagination/storytelling/arts/philosophy. On top of all that - I am (or at least was the last time I read them many years ago) a huge fan of the first two books in this trilogy. I've cited Garner as a strong early influence on my writing/the landscape of my imagination.
I went into the book forewarned that this volume was orthogonal to the first two in both style and content. Fifty years stand between the writing of The Moon of Gomrath and Boneland. I don't for a moment think that this book was lightly undertaken or that it isn't underwritten by both profound thought and deep personal significance.
There are passages of considerable power in the book, lines with a spare beauty about them.
_However_ despite all that ... for me the whole thing failed to gell. Much of it felt confused and repetitive. The reason for that no doubt lies in the fact that Garner is trying to put us in the mind of a confused genius struggling with mental health issues and (possibly) in the mind of a long dead man defined by a prehistoric mindset and struggling with a lost mythology.
The thing is ... that it really did read as confused and repetitive. The description was so sparse as to leave me with little to hang on to. I understand that this isn't meant to be an easy book and that it's not intending to give me a riveting story, likeable characters to follow, excitement etc, nor is it going to hold my hand as it runs through its strange landscapes. But ... dammit ... I've been moved/enthralled/intrigued by books like that before ... and this one ... just didn't take me there.
I would love to wax lyrical about the power and genius of Alan Garner. I would love to pat myself on the back for being able to tune into his wavelength and take from this difficult book some sense of awe and wonder, some collection of existential questions that if not answered were at least posed in a way that set me orbiting them.
I just can't.
I hope it works for you.
I found enough beauty and intrigue in it for 3*. 2* would be too harsh. 4* would be a lie.
I do feel as though I failed in reading this book rather than Garner failed in writing it.
[as a side note - the scientist part of this was largely unconvincing to me (as a scientist). I can tell myself that Colin's repeated delivery of constants/durations/distances to a great number of decimal places was to illustrate his Asperger's syndrome rather than his credentials as a scientist (precision in such things not being an important part of scientific discussion), but the whole telescope element was weak. Colin is pointing this very valuable resource at the Pleiades looking for his sister. I can buy into his logic of belief, non-linear time etc as meaning he hopes for some insight from the study - but the feeling is that 1930s cigar smoking scientists are just having a play and trusting a 'good fellow' to be doing good work. Of course the reality is that he would be working on a project, that project would have been based on a proposal approved by a panel - and so whatever his ulterior motive, people working with him would have a reason for his study and what it hoped to achieve scientifically. There is no hint of this at all in the book and it makes even the 'real' parts of the work seem unreal (to me)]
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