Thursday 5 May 2016

Boneland: a true Story

It was only after I bought it home from the library that I realised that 'Boneland' by Alan Garner was the third part of the Weirdstone Trilogy, written, in the same way that Ursula LeGuin wrote two more books long after the original Earthsea trilogy, for the same readers who are now adults.

Colin is now a professor and works at the observatory at Jodrell Bank, but the events of his childhood still haunt him, especially the disappearance of his twin sister, hovering in the background of his damaged memory. With the help of Meg, a somewhat unorthodox psychiatrist, he delves into his past. I was suspicious of her all along, and as it turns out she is not everything she seems, but mostly they just hang out together, while she tries to get him to talk. Here they are taking a walk, with Colin, as so often, taking refuge in science:

"They are back among the trees. The scarp curved in a horseshoe. The path had been rerouted, but Colin took her down along an older one, with the wall on their left and the drop to their right.
'What the flipping heck is this?' said Meg
They were below the pointed wedge of the hill that jutted high above the path.
'Castle Rock,' said Colin. 'It's the most instructive part of the Edge. It shows the Permo-Triassic boundary clearly. Which is why it's so remarkable. Here, where we are, the polychromatic sandstone has eroded because it's a soft aeolian desert and the grains have lost their facets through being worked by the wind; hence all the graffiti. Then above, a slow estuarine feature has moved in, hard, with no inclusions. And above it is the conglomerate, without stratification but full of derived quartz pebbles, indicating high-energy flow, a torrential fluvial deposit.' " (p.69-70)

Alongside is a much older story of a Watcher, part of the mythology that surrounds the place. He has an important role to play and fears what will happen if he cannot make a child to replace him:

"It hurt to turn the stick between his palms to blow a fire heap. It hurt to follow his shoulder and to twist his head through the hill along the seam of grit. It hurt to cut the veil to set the spirits free. His hand on the blade lost its grace, and it hurt to make a beast true. Yet if he did nor make it true the spirit would not be true. Beasts would go into the world unmade. Wolves would feed until there were no more, and then wolves and all would pass because they had eaten life rough-hewn. The Stone Spirit and the Bull would see that the land was wrong and dead, and there would be no eagles sent to feed the stars; the sun would not turn from death, and there would be only wanderers and the moon and Crane flying at night.
There had to be a woman that he could hold, to grow a child that he could teach, to stop the dark. But where she was he could not dream." (p.58-9)

I feel like you could not come to this book cold, you need to know the back story. I read 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' to the children many, many years ago and it left a vague memory of the children and a necklace and some sleeping men, and a terrible fear of the narrow tunnel that the characters are forced to crawl though to escape some threat; it is not often that a book provokes such a strong reaction from me and thinking about it still makes my blood run cold. But I do not remember it well enough for this one to make much sense. Boneland is all atmosphere, very much about the place the Alan Garner lives and writes, but it is also very much an adult book, there is no adventure or quest, there is only Colin struggling to understand what happened and if there is something left that he should do. A strange book.

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