starlady: (a sad tale's best)
Garner, Alan. Boneland. London: Fourth Estate, 2012.

I read all of Alan Garner's early fantasy books - conventionally said to be for children, though I would argue that like all great fantasy they are ageless - when they came out from Magic Carpet in the 1990s, and I don't think there's any other writer like him. Try Elidor for a Narnia story that isn't. Read The Owl Service for a cracking good, creepy book that is more than a little like a precursor to Coraline. Read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath for high English local fantasy that is ineffable and thrilling.

In the past forty years Garner wrote books for adults, none of which I read, and then this year, quietly, he came out with Boneland, the final novel in the Alderley sequence. The publisher says it's written for adults but again, it feels timeless, though who knows if I would have understood it if I'd read it at the age when I read the rest of his books, because I don't entirely know that I fully understood it now.

The Alderley books tell the story of Colin and Susan, two twins who live near Alderley Edge in Cheshire and who fall in with the wizard Cadellin, who enlists them in battles against the Morrigan to save the world, or at least the piece of it that they can. Here's a lesson for you: don't be named Susan in a classic British fantasy. I had almost forgotten Cadellin until I started poking around for reviews of Boneland, but that's okay, because Colin has forgotten Cadellin too. Colin has forgotten everything that happened to him before he was thirteen. Colin is a genius polymath astrophysicist who lives next to a quarry near Alderley Edge and remembers every single thing that has happened to him since he was thirteen perfectly. Colin has problems.

Colin has problems, and so does his cousin or kinsman across time the Watcher, who must keep watch lest the world end. The Watcher must find the Woman, so he can pass on his duties and the world be saved. Colin must remember what happened to him, and to Susan, or there is no hope for him.

This is not a book about which it is possible to say certain kinds of things. It is short and all of a piece, like a punch to the gut; I suspect the only thing is to experience it, and draw your own conclusions. There are individual elements that I could question, maybe, but maybe not, and Garner's writing has not grown any less majestically immersive and surreal. The book is like a dolmen that you come across in some quasi-unreal landscape: There it is. How? Why? That's not the point.

I liked the characters; I liked Colin; I liked his wise-cracking psychologist Meg, who I frankly can't help but wonder might be Meg Murray from an alternate universe, or maybe Mary Poppins, or maybe Mrs. Whatsit, or maybe someone else whose name starts with M and ends with -gan. (I think, after reading a few other DW reviews, I can see the Gawain and the Green Knight Elements, but again, I'm still not sure why, and it's certainly possible to enjoy the book without them.) That isn't the point. The point is that the book is wild and untamed and deserves to be read, and that it might just be a masterpiece.

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