Saturday, 8 September 2012

Boneland: Alan Garner

I would be lying if I were to say this were a review.

This, I promise, is true: Last time I read The Alderley Books, I had an idea for a short story. It would be about Colin. He would have become an academic, and, tied to Alderley, he would search for his lost sister.

A month later, I get news of Boneland.

I exhaled. After all, I could never have done it justice.

In the past, I have waxed lyrical about how rare truly beautiful writing can be ( and I have iterated my cautious attitude to fangirling ( but I have answers to both of these points:

This is Alan Garner.

I have been waiting for this book for twelve years.

It's not been twelve years since I read The Moon of Gomrath, no.  It's not even been twelve years since I first read The Moon of Gomrath, I was... I don't know. In Primary school. A long time ago. It was twelve years ago, with all the hormones of the menarche screaming around me that I realised what happens at the end of that book, that I understood what Susan does, what Susan feels....

It needed a sequel - but that sequel is called adulthood, and it takes its time in coming.

And Alan Garner?

Let's go back to me at eights year old* - book crazy and myth addled. I always knew, though, the difference between reality and fiction - not for me the banging at the back of wardrobes trying to get passage to Narnia. For a start I knew the books too well: My wardrobe wasn't made from apple wood brought from the creation of Narnia now, was it? The rings were always a more reliable way of travelling between the worlds. But anyway, they were an allegory. Of course I played at Narnia, but I never expected to be whisked away there. Now, Robin Jarvis, he was a bit different. There's a nightmarish quality to his books which made them all too plausible, and sometimes I woke in a cold sweat because of them, but they were fictional. Some part of me always knew that they were fictional.

But The Weirdstone? The Owl Service? 

No. No, they weren't fiction at all.

They were landscape. They were myth.

Even that young, I could tell the difference.

As I say, I've waited twelve years for this.

To put it simply, this is what it is:
When we are children, we have an immediacy of connection with that world; we fight alongside dwarfs, we battle witches. The world is bright, fierce and inhabited. There is good and there is evil and we pick our sides and we reap the consequences.

When we reach adolescence, the older magic begins to be unbound in our bodies and our hearts. Terrifying, it defies classification or morality. We yearn, but it races, too fast, too hot, too dangerous. There are no sides, not any more.

Then there is adulthood. We cannot see, cannot even remember that it has a face. We cannot touch it so directly, but it is more powerful, latent in the landscape. The high magic becomes nothing more than futile artifice, its boundaries false, its presence merely fading injunctions. The wild hunt has flown. There is an older magic still, one without words, without personalities, and it has many meanings and no meanings at all. Everything is grey. Everything is bone. Everything is the Earth.

This is not fiction. Not fiction at all. This is landscape. This is myth.

*I'm guessing.


  1. This resonates with me, I read The Moon of Gomrath when I was 13, back in '75, I'm now approaching 50 and entering menopause, Bonland and Susan's journey (and her brother's journey, of course) is still relevant to me.

    In other news, I am going to Alan Garner's house tomorrow to do a course on finding your ancestors. Should be interesting.
    And we are going to see a lecture by him next Thursday at Jodrell Bank. There are advantages to beeing local to him.

  2. Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. 'Boneland' certainly had the sense of something that was going to be relevant for the rest of my life. More than worth the wait.

    Never actually been up that way - always worried it would be too much like the bit in Weirdstone where the Edge is covered with tourists and robbed of its magic. I hope you have as fantastic a time as you should have.

  3. You have to choose your time, the weekend isn't good, unless it's first thing in the morning. Autumn/Winter midweek is best. And when its not been raining too much, The Edge is a quagmire in the wet.

    But it is worth doing, everything is there, just as it should be.

    The course on Family History was fab, really interesting, we even got to look at the bones of the 4000 year old human cremation on site. With bonus mad kittens.