The grown-up conclusion to Garner’s Weirdstone trilogy

Boneland by Alan Garner

Last month I was privileged to attend a lecture given by Alan Garner, and came home enthused to read everything he has written, starting with the ‘Weirdstone Trilogy’.  I’d read the first two books as a child in the late 1960s, and re-reading them now was a joy which I wrote about here.

Boneland, the final part of the trilogy, although again set around Alderley Edge and featuring Colin (and Susan) is a completely different animal, yet it does cap off the story that began with a retelling of the Legend of Alderley Edge and the chamber of sleeping knights who lay under it, waiting until they are needed.

In The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon of Gomrath, twins Colin and Susan aged twelve by the end, had some fantastic adventures with wizards, dwarves, elves and battled an assortment of nasty demons and goblins. They never questioned why they had been lucky enough to get a glimpse of this hidden side of our world and Susan had seemed to be very attuned to it in particular.

In his lecture, Garner told us he was quite sick of them, so didn’t write any more adventures. But he didn’t kill them off either, and when fifty or so years later, someone said something to him, it had sparked off an idea about them which lead to Boneland.

He told us he’d been inspired to write about what might happen to someone in later life who has had such magical experiences as a child. Wouldn’t real life just be so mundane in comparison – is normal life worth living after that?  He noted that CS Lewis never dealt with that in Narnia – indeed Lucy and co live out full and long lives through the wardrobe before trooping back through it and resuming their childhood.

Lovell TelescopeBoneland starts several decades after the original adventures. Colin is an astrophysicist working at Jodrell Bank (home of the iconic Lovell Telescope (right) at Alderley Edge).  Colin lives alone in an eco-pod. He is also an ornithologist, expert cook and carpenter, has many degrees – you would call him a savant.  His social skills are appropriately limited, and despite an eidetic memory, he can’t remember anything from when he was younger than thirteen.

Susan has disappeared, and Colin is obsessed by searching for her in the stars, believing her to have become a star, maybe one of the Pleiades, but it is breaking him.

Eventually, persuaded, he succumbs to psychoanalysis, ministered to him by the unconventional Meg Massey. She, being a black-leather-clad motorbiker in her spare time, effectively fulfills his fantasies and transference duly occurs. She seems too good to be true though – Is she an angel of mercy there to help him through his breakdown, or is she a witchy echo from the past?

Garner intersperses the main story with that of a stone age shaman, who collects bones and makes cave paintings – on Alderley Edge, his story paralleling with Colin’s. You can sense them gradually coming together as Colin realises the answers are to be found on the Edge.

This is a challenging novel to read. Garner’s prose is stripped back, the dialogue-driven passages are nothing but – the reader has to fill in all the gaps – and there are a lot of them. It’s not really quotable. With perseverance, however, all the pieces do start to fall into place. But when Garner does allow himself to describe the scene, the text is rather beautiful as in these examples:

The note of the wind changed, the stresses of the girders and of the dish made their own music as the telescope tracked, slowed to the measure of the Earth’s turning, and the motors died near to silence.

So the day shrank and night stretched. The clonter of the cobbles in the river was silent, and the river fell to sleep. Then was the time when day and night were the same, and the sun tipped towards death.

With Boneland, Garner may have completed his Weirdstone trilogy and achieved closure for Colin, yet I found I was left with a lot of questions.  Re-reading parts to help write this post a couple of weeks later, I find that understanding is percolating through, like ancient waters seeping through rock. To quote the blurb, the novel celebrates ‘the enduring resonance of myth‘, and how that collides and interacts with real life.  Although I would always advocate reading a trilogy in its entirety starting at the beginning, Boneland can stand on its own – but you would be missing a real treat if you didn’t read the other two.

As for Boneland, it is continuing to grow on me (8/10) 

You can also read Ursula K Le Guin’s rather brilliant review from the Guardian here.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3) by Alan Garner. Fourth Estate paperback, 160 pages.


12 thoughts on “The grown-up conclusion to Garner’s Weirdstone trilogy

  1. Fascinating review Annabel and thanks for the link to LeGuin. Garner’s children’s books could be challenging, so its inevitable that an adult follow up would be too. I shall definitely re-read the two earlier books before attempting this one!

  2. How interesting! Rowan Williams mentioned Boneland in his talk at Saturday’s Lewis commemoration, describing it (and Thursbitch) as “utterly haunting and remarkable”.

  3. I read Garner too as a child, so I’m interested in this. I don’t remember much of the original books, to be honest, except being awed by them, so I’d probably have to read them first.

  4. I wondered how you would get on with this? As you say, it is very different from the earlier two volumes and yet in those passages that you quote, the words ‘then was the time when day and night were the same, and the sun tipped towards death’ could very easily have been said to the children by one of the mythical characters they meet in those books. There is a sense of continuity through difference and I’m sure you’re correct when you say it is a book you have to let grow on you over time and re-readings.

    • I wrote this post last week, and I really am still thinking about Boneland. I agree with you about the continuity aspects too – in his lecture he did say he hadn’t written the first two books specifically as for children – and that shows.

  5. Like you I read and adored The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath as a child and thoroughly enjoyed them once again when I re-read them last year in preparation for reading Boneland but I found the latter really hard going.
    It may well be a case of right book but wrong time but I really struggled with it and the overriding feeling I have about it looking back, is utter bewilderment!
    I thought his writing was as good as ever but I am afraid that I just didn’t ‘get’ it.

    Maybe I will have to take your advice and read it again when I am feeling more intelligent or capable of thinking it through!

    • I agree Liz – bits of it were quite – no make that very opaque on a first reading – I’m still confused about the mother and child, but I now get the purpose of the shaman on a partial re-read, and the end goes back to the beginning … I think! I did enjoy it though, but it is challenging and I will need to revisit it – definitely a book you need to be in the right frame of mind to read. If you try again, I hope you have better luck.

  6. Thanks for your review. I’ve got Boneland, but haven’t read it yet. Like you, I wanted to reread Weirdstone and Moon first. His post-children’s books can be very challenging. Redshift was difficult, Strandloper very difficult. I have Thursbitch and Boneland and will get to them someday. I’m encouraged by your review that I won’t be disappointed. Thank again.

    • My fingers are crossed for you Dean that you’ll enjoy Boneland. I’m sure I read Red Shift as a teenager, but I have a copy to re-read, along with Thursbitch on my shelves.

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