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Iain Rowan
Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 - 12:29 pm:   

Given a very broad definition of fantasy, the best fantasy novel that I've read in the last twelve months is Alan Garner's Thursbitch.

Some books you read and enjoy and forget about. Others stay rattling around inside your mind, rising to the surface again at moments of their own choosing. for me, this is one of those books.

It's not an easy read; Garner makes no concessions to the reader when he loads much of the dialogue with a eighteenth century Cheshire dialect, and his characters simply exist in their world without ever feeling the need to stop and explain the commonplace to one another for the benefit of any invisible reader who might be peering over their shoulders ("As ye know, Robert..."). Both of these are Good Things, and contribute to the denseness, the richness of this book.

There are two stories intertwined here, that of Jack and Nan Sarah in the eighteenth century, and that of Ian and Sal in the present day, but both are linked and every line, every allusion resonates in the same way that Garner makes the Cheshire landscape resonate with history and myth and meaning. There's not much fiction that is as saturated in a sense of place as this is, and it's a wonderful thing. Reading it, I felt as if Garner knew every last rock, every hollow.

I'm a sucker for a story that attempts to deal with mythology for England that goes beyond Arthurian rehashes and the usual tropes of Faerie, and I've got to say that I'm usually disappointed. Not this time, though. The faith that permeates every inch of Jack's life - and Jack himself - is an obscure and powerful thing, and reading the novel I felt like I was only seeing a piece of a greater whole, and the way that Garner simply presents this - mysterious and terrifying and full of wonder as it is - without explanation, without analysis, just part of the characters' lives in the same way that the landscape is (and they part of the landscape), works better than almost anything else that I've read.

When I finished the last page I knew that I would be reading this novel again, and again, and I think each time that I do I will get something new from it, brief though it is. It's interesting; many of the better books that I've read in the last six months or so have been short. They tell the story, and when the story's finished, they stop. Thursbitch is a short book, but it packs more of an impact than some tetralogies whose individual volumes are themselves so large that they distort space and time. If you haven't read it, do. It's wonderful.
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Dom Murphy
Posted on Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - 03:14 pm:   

Don't you think it's almost a sequel to Red Shift?

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