Why I Like Alan Garner's books

mks at brisingamen.demon.co.uk mks at brisingamen.demon.co.uk
Fri Feb 27 14:41:31 EST 2004

I've been thinking about this a lot without being able to reach a
sensible answer.

On Wed, 18 Feb 2004 19:58:55 +1100, Sallyo wrote:

>> Yes, I confess; Alan Garner is the author I cite when pressed to name
>> *one* favourite writer
>Which books, particularly? I liked Weirdstone and Gomrath, quite liked
>Elidor, was puzzled by Owl Service and completely floored by Red Shift. Post
>that I've read the Stone Quartet, I think... but I'm floored again by what
>he DOES with his time, seeing's how I bluv he was/is a full time writer.
All of them, though for different reasons. That's not very helpful, is
it? How to be more specific. I'm not sure I can really single one book
out from another when I tend to seem them as a continuum. I like the
first two books for their simplicity as much as I like the later books
for their complexity. I guess the first two books are really
attractive because of their settings and the basic set-up of mythical
creatures coming to life, that sense of another world being close by.
Elidor I like because it's so edgy. He's moving from a world that is,
relatively speaking, cosy to a harsher domain; things aren't any
longer easily resolved, the whole book is about tension, manipulation,
selfishness, sacrifice; in many respects it's the antithesis of the
cosy resolution of many children's stories in which good wins through.

Red Shift and Owl Service I find disturbing personally because both
touch in various ways on the attitudes of my own parents when I was an
adolescent. In Red Shift there are lines that, word for word with
adjustment for gender, are things my mother said to me. I feel in many
ways he laid bare the experience of adolescence as no other author
ever has for me. But I'm also fascinated increasingly by his use of
time, and of the recurrence of events through history. You see that
again in The Stone Book Quartet as events resonate down the ages and
through the books.

Strandloper and Thursbitch I'm still thinking about. I have never felt
I knew enough about transportation to properly get a grip on parts of
what was happening, and I don't know enough about aboriginal beliefs
either, so I have The Fatal Shore and a pile of books sent me by a
friend to work my way through.

(This is another reason I enjoy Alan Garner's work so much; I get to
read a lot of really interesting background material.)

One of the many things I like about Garner, particularly with the
later books, is the austerity of his language, much in little and so
on, and the way everything is pared down to only the strictly
necessary. I find the economy interesting because of what it demands
from the reader as a result. I think he's a great storyteller but he's
often a storyteller almost more by allusion than through direct
telling. This would be the case with Red Shift, and more recently with
the new novel, Thursbitch. In some ways it's the antithesis of the
folk stories he often draws from, but I like the way he twists the
stories into new forms.

Another thing about his work that I find particularly satisfying is
the layering of allusions and resonances, the way the reader is
constantly having to make links. That's true of pretty much all his
novels from Elidor onwards; they seem to fold over on themselves all
the time. Also, the themes emerge again and again through the books,
often in small ways. 

I suspect that if I have favourites, and I'm not sure I do, they might
be Elidor and The Stone Book Quartet, but that depends on what I'm
working on at any time. 

He is a full-time writer; from what he says he seems to do a lot of
research for each book, some of it obscure, maybe surfacing in small
details. I have the impression that writing isn't an easy process for
him and that although he knows what the end of a book will be when he
starts it, getting there can be painful. I think he thinks a lot.


Maureen Kincaid Speller
Folkestone, Kent, UK

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