Review: Boneland, by Alan Garner

Boneland (Medium)

Boneland by Alan Garner (Fourth Estate)

This is a mindblowing peice of writing. Boneland (in case you don’t know) completes the trilogy set on Alderley Edge which began with ‘The Wierdstone of Brisingamen’ and continued with ‘The Moon of Gomrath’. I reread both of these recently and each is quite as different from the other as Boneland is from either of them.

Boneland, unlike the first two parts, is a book written for adults – for those who have grown up needing an ending. But it’s an ending like no other – Garner doesn’t tie things up neatly for us at all. In fact for the first few pages I wasn’t entrely sure what was going on. I put it down and started reading again at an earlier time the next evening!

It’s like reading a dream, this book. It’s kind of linear but also it’s not. It refers to the events in Colin’s early life, and his present, alongside a narrative following a person (the dreamer?) who inhabits the cave (Fundindelve – the cave behind the rock – I assume, because of the glowing stone he finds inside it, or maybe it’s not). This person speaks to the wolf, he journeys the plain and makes the seasons turn with his dancing and singing, he is a Shaman from very long ago, and he has a quest.

Colin is now a Professor (an eccentric one at that) and lives in the quarry rather like a hermit, albeit a hermit who holds down a job at Jodrell Bank Observatory where he studies MERLIN – M45, looking for his lost sister Susan in the Pleiades. We know from quite early on that he has mental health issues which he is not managing/are not being managed well, that he is highly intelligent – he has degrees in many things – and that he can remember nothing from before the age of thirteen (when Susan disappeared). His GP sends him to a psychiatrist (Meg) “She’s not to everyone’s taste, but she gets results”. But is she to be trusted? Colin does appear to trust her, after a while, though remains frightened of her. For me she represents one (or possibly more than one) of the mythical beings in the earlier books, but I wonder if much of the idea of this book is it asks you to make of it what you will, rather than being dictated to by the author.

Various other characters; Owen the radio telescope operator, The Director of the observatory, and Bert the taxi driver (Bert is always strangely there, with his taxi, when needed) appear regularly throughout the tale…but Susan remains elusive. Does she speak to Colin through the ‘whispering dishes’ at Joddrell Bank, or is this all in his head? What did happen to her, on that stormy night during their childhood?

Colin is given something by the Director which was discovered when the telescope was built, and which links him to the ancient Shaman, and we reach the end of this very strange tale. This whole story is so vividly dreamlike, so other worldly, you just have to go with it, and it will leave you, I think, with questions about what is real and what is not.

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