Fourth Estate, £16.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Boneland, By Alan Garner

After 50 years, a unique trilogy of novels finally reaches its mind- expanding final

Things have not gone well for Colin and Susan since they set about seeing off encroaching forces of evil, first in Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and then The Moon of Gomrath (1963). Nearly 50 years later – surely the longest time ever taken to complete a trilogy? – they turn up again in Boneland. Or at least Colin does, now a wild-haired, mad Professor of Astronomy. Susan, always more in touch with hidden powers, has long been taken by the Pleiades into another world when a sacrifice was needed to save the normal order of the universe. Colin, bereft, can only sense her and occasionally catch the odd word snatched from the ether or communicated during a dream.

It's a fairly preposterous plot, then, not made any simpler by the existence of a parallel story involving a prehistoric shaman known as the Watcher, also charged with having to preserve the world from destruction. Yet it never does to underestimate Garner, a writer with the ability to make familiar words sing off the page as if part of a new poetic language. Each new book is an adventure into previously uncharted territories.

Too much sustained fine writing can also feel remorseless. Garner knows this, but whenever he goes into less exalted mode, Boneland becomes unstuck. In need of treatment away from his recurrent visions, Colin seeks the help of Meg, described as a psychiatrist but coming over as someone more in the Rolf Harris school of relentless facetiousness. Colin's Asperger-type lecturettes to her on quantum physics, time, maths and anything else he can make suitably abstruse also become trying.

Young readers warmed to Garner's 1967 masterpiece The Owl Service because they could sense the urgency of the story, whatever its ambiguities. Boneland however is not in any sense a children's book. A weeping middle-aged man who wears a green silk hood is a far cry from fresh young Colin. But then, describing what sort of adults child characters have grown into is always tricky – who could forgive RM Ballantyne for turning the charming young adventurers of The Coral Island into the cold-hearted moustachioed killers of The Gorilla Hunters?

Even so, at 149 pages, this novel packs in an enormous amount and invites re-reading. Set in the Cheshire hills around Alderley Edge, where the author has always lived, it has as its real heroes the rocky landscapes that have their own stories to tell. They have found their ideal interpreter. Garner ranges through history, endowing each cleft and protuberance with its own role in a cosmic struggle between light and dark.

True, the story that emerges is often obscure and over-the-top. But if it is the manner of their telling that ultimately proves to have the greatest worth for their audiences, then this novel should live on after more conventional fare has long fallen by the wayside.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen