Boneland, the long awaited third volume in Alan Garner’s Weirdstone trilogy, is a finely drawn and ambiguous tale, that every reader will draw different things from. This is perhaps the mark of a truly great novel, and one that will surely last in memory as long as its predecessors. Considering the long gap since the last volume, The Moon of Gomrath, a reread of the previous books will place the reader in a good position to get the most from this final volume. For all that, Boneland strikes its own ground and Mr Garner takes the tale in a bold new direction. No, it isn’t Weirdstone and it isn’t Gomrath, but Boneland seems the perfect epilogue to those earlier stories. The threads between all three books remain strong on a deeper level than your average cut-and-dried trilogy.
The themes here are loss and redemption, as the now grown up Colin Whisterfield searches the stars for his long lost sister, unable to recall anything before the age of 13 due to a childhood trauma. The twin strands of the novel (a clever narrative device seeing as we are dealing with twins and duality throughout), feature a primal ‘Creation myth’ on Alderley Edge, and Colin’s often painful (as well as often amusing) therapy sessions with the mysterious Meg. To say more is to unpick the plot and Boneland is a book that one should come to cold, with hopeful childhood memories in tow.
The ‘humanised’ telescope at Jodrell Bank, where Colin now works, was one of the keys to the story, and much of Boneland is indeed a riddle, open to interpretation. Readers familiar with the previous volumes will find themselves gazing down the lens of time and maturity at the foggy magical landscape of childhood. That perspective feels necessary to ‘get’ the novel, which often deals with the conflict between introspection and observation in relation to history, mythology, the cosmos and the inner self. The progression of tone from the earlier books provokes deep nostalgia as well as thought, but Garner possesses a lightness of touch that handles these complex themes with grace. His love of nature, science and myth swim off the page. This book will educate and flabbergast, confound and enlighten in equal measure.
Boneland is a book about division and discovery, and its approach is undeniably original. What other author would revisit their break-through story 49 years later and review it through adult eyes? Those longing for a childlike continuation of Colin and Susan’s adventures on the Edge may feel disappointed by this heartfelt and intellectual journey, but that is all part of the beauty. At its height, Boneland may remind the readers of those earlier books that they are now grown, but perhaps the fairy tale is still real, if one can only remember it.
Boneland is a brave, beautiful and haunting book, and easily bears repeated reading.
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