My plan for this instalment of the Alan Garner-themed Reading Group was to talk about the enduring legacy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath – and to canvas final opinions now we've read through them together. But we've already had plenty of interesting discussion on that theme and I think reached a consensus. Briefly, that they're pretty damn good.
This opinion wasn't held universally. Sarah von Himmelheim initially had a few doubts:
"My main issue is that the characters of Susan and Colin remain so empty and lifeless. Halfway through the book I still have no idea about who they are, how they roll, what's going on inside them, how they look like, how their personalities are. My initial reaction was: 'Wow, this is some piece of badly written fiction!'"
But she eventually seemed just as "intrigued with the Old Magic" as everyone else. The most persistent negative opinion actually came from Alan Garner himself in a quote from his (also wonderful) book The Voice That Thunders:
"My first attempt, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is a fairly bad book, but there had to be a start somewhere, and consolation rests in the even worse first drafts of the opening chapter, which I pin up when things seem to be going well."
Anyway, that's all by the by. We've done that bit (although of course, further opinions are very welcome) and, more to the point, we have something new and exciting and intriguingly difficult to discuss: Boneland.
Ursula K Le Guin has just reviewed the book for the Hlcarpenter.com, and like just about everything she writes, her review is compulsory reading. She points out why the book is difficult:
"It treads on risky ground. Readers looking for more than mere adventure expect characters whose behaviour and reactions are humanly comprehensible.
"The child twins Colin and Susan were semi-characterless actors in a fantasy tale. Colin is both severely disturbed radio-astronomer and the man chosen from his generation to "look after the Edge" – and how to reconcile these roles in a character in a modern novel? How are the pyschic sufferings of a man so anachronistically fated and so emotionally crippled to be made comprehensible?"
"You figure out what it's all about gradually; as with poetry, learning another language, learning to see and think differently, the demands and rewards are intense and real. It is this element of the book, in which the obsessions come into focus and a true balance is glimpsed, that will bring me back to Boneland, knowing I'll find there what no other novelist has ever given us."
I shan't add to Le Guin's review (who would dare?) except to note my personal feelings. I found the book emotionally hard – in the best possible sense of the latter word. It hits you in the gut. Colin's situation is troubling and sad. As an account of mental trauma, it's highly effective – and correspondingly bleak, even though shot through with wonderful moments of light. It wasn't necessarily easy to read – but it was cathartic. It's a book I imagine I'll return to again and again. And not only because I still want to figure out what's going on in so much of it.
But enough of me. I want to hear from you. Have you started Boneland yet? How are you finding it? And do you have ideas about interpretation? All opinions, interpretations and reactions will be gratefully received. Since Boneland has only just come out we're going to leave this thread open for a few weeks so it can (hopefully!) slowly build as a resource as more people start to uncover its mysteries.