The news that at eighty-seven Alan Garner has just published another novel—Treacle Walker—is reason enough to celebrate. No surprise: it's superb. As always, Garner's prose has the compactness, rhythms, and multilayered power of poetry. His imagination is vivid and odd. And it's all rooted in the part of Cheshire where he grew up and has lived almost all his life. Another reason to celebrate: he has made a gorgeous promotional video that shows the house in which the story is set, a copse that plays a part in it, and three talismanic objects.
Picturing a World
I admit I've been reading more than writing in the last few weeks, so here's another recommendation. Last night I finished Pat Barker's new novel, The Women of Troy, a sequel to The Silence of the Girls (2019). I read each compulsively in big gulps. Troy ends full of possibilities for another installment. I hope she writes it!
This month, my library book club is reading What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. When I picked up my copy, the librarian told me she had asked four different people what happened at the end and received four different answers. After reading the novel, I can see why. We sometimes send around questions ahead of time, so this month I did and led off with one about genre. I think it's helpful in evaluating other books, too, or even thinking about our own writing.
I'm having fun. One by one, at intervals to stretch it out, I'm reading stories in Jonathan Strahan's anthology, The Book of Dragons, illustrated by Rovina Cai. Recently, I read "Pox" by Ellen Klages, an author new to me. I loved it, and what a great pleasure to find that one of the delightful characters, Franny Travers, also appears in Klages' novella, Passing Strange.
Once I picked up Richard Powers' new novel, Bewilderment, it kept me reading compulsively at the expense of other things I ought to have been doing. Throughout, I was aware that Powers was building and interweaving scientific, philosophical, and literary patterns; but until I had finished it, I couldn't see just how strong the cumulative effect would be. Then this morning, I read the last ten pages.
Last March, a review of Spring Cannot Be Cancelled by David Hockney and Martin Gayford led me to order a copy from a local bookseller and wait for its U.S. release. It would have been perfect for the late, cold springs we have in New England, especially while anxieties about vaccine availability and COVID restrictions were still strong. Bright colors, sophisticated conversation, a place of cultivated beauty and (let's face it) nostalgic ease of life. I thought about saving it for next spring, when I'm sure to need a lift again—but naaahhh, I'm reading it now during the first hot spell of June, and it has me gripped. Look at some double-page spreads and see why.
Near the beginning of Kindred, Rebecca Wray Sykes quotes such a good passage from Claire Cameron's novel, The Last Neanderthal, that it was the next book I took up—and then read in three gulps. It's one of those two-stranded novels in which a present-day scholar investigates a topic, while historical fiction dramatizes what the scholar will (or won't) fully uncover by the end. In this case, in one story line, an archeologist makes an intriguing discovery. In the other, we live and breathe with Girl, a Neanderthal. It's a very good novel, one that I would recommend to anyone who liked The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish or A. S. Byatt's Possession.
A cache of old letters. Research to uncover a secret or reconstruct a life. Narration of the search itself. These are the familiar elements of fiction from Henry James's The Aspern Papers to modern novels like The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. Novelist, short-story writer, and poet, Elaine Fowler Palencia didn't invent such a story; she lived it. The result is On Rising Ground, her narrative of the life of one ordinary man and his experience as a private in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly narrow in focus, it is also wide in scope and written in response to the questions a novelist as well as a family historian would ask.