Sunday 2 March 2008

Red Shift by Alan Garner

Alan Garner is best known for writing children's fantasies like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, previously reviewed on this blog. However, he went on to write more challenging novels, still usually classified as for "young adults" but with plenty in them to keep adults absorbed. Red Shift is perhaps the most extreme example of this.

The plot follows three linked threads. The first and main one concerns the relationship of a girl and a brilliant but disturbed boy in their late teens in contemporary Cheshire. The other two feature the lives of their earlier counterparts in the same locations, during the English Civil War and in Roman Britain. Apart from the characters and the locations, a key linking element is a polished stone axe which appears in all three threads.

The style of writing is decidedly unconventional. There are no chapters, and the story chops between the threads without warning. Long time gaps can occur between consecutive sentences. There is little description or narrative to explain what is going on. The book consists almost entirely of dialogue between the characters; a clipped, elliptical form of speech which leaves the reader having to concentrate to fathom what is happening. It is not an easy read.

Neither is there much cheer in the three plots, which are downbeat and grim. Ursula Le Guin is quoted on the cover as describing this as "a bitter, complex, brilliant book", and I don't disagree. I found this short novel worth the effort to read despite my somewhat unenthusiastic description, and would particularly recommend it to those interested in the craft of writing.


My novel Scales has received another review, this time on Spiral Galaxy Reviews. There have now been nine reviews posted on the web (summarised and linked to on my website); one bad one, a couple of middling and the rest fairly good. Maybe I'll keep writing after all...

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