Review of Boneland by Alan Garner
I went back and re-read Weirdstone and Gomrath, then read Boneland a second time to see if it worked as a sequel and culmination to the first two books. On first reading Boneland, before Christmas, I thought it did work but now, having refreshed my memory of the previous books, I don’t think it does. As a stand alone book, relying on vague memories of books read years ago, and telling the story of a middle-aged man dealing with mental illness it is quite brilliant. But, with Weirdstone and Gomrath fresh in mind, there are too many loose ends for it to work as sequel and culmination.
What seems to have happened is that at some unspecified point after the end of Gomrath, Susan rides off on Prince. The horse is found on an island in Redesmere (said island having been unknown to all including Gowther in Weirdstone but now apparently common knowledge) but no trace of Susan is ever found. Colin, in a frenzy to find her, goes to the Edge and attempts to wake the Sleepers (quite how knights supposed to fight a final battle against evil could find a sister who’s ridden off into the stars is not perhaps obvious, but let’s grant that Colin is distraught). Presumably to stop Colin doing this again, Cadellin makes him forget everything that happened before his 13th birthday, but then makes him guardian of the Edge, unable to ever leave. Colin, as an adult, then undergoes psychotherapy with Meg, who appears to be a considerably more attractive and much kinder version of the Morrigan. No mention is ever made of what happened to Colin and Susan’s parents, and a pair who were previously siblings, with Colin the elder, suddenly become twins. Gowther and Bess die off stage in the gap between books.
Another problem, with respect to the first two books, is the pre-human shaman who sings upon the Edge in prehistory. I can see how this shows the antiquity of the Edge, and how its stories play out through repeated epochs, but, as a sequel to the first two books, it would have been better to counterpoint the present with a magician/shaman from the pre-history that figures in the Weirdstone and Gomrath, namely the early British (Celtic) legends and lore of this land, before the Romans came.
I do not see how these actions can be squared with what we know of the characters from the first two books. So, Boneland I would classify as a brilliant book on its own, and even better when it draws upon the distant memories of stories read in childhood, rather as childhood itself disappears into revisited and rehearsed memories and photos, and the life stuff that is completely lost and gone. But when read in sequence, so that the previous books are fresh in memory, Boneland seems a failure as a sequel, since it does not follow, embroider or flesh out the first two books, but rather contradicts them in too many ways.
I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts.
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Thanks for your comment, George. Yes, I agree, having read the books, but many years ago, actually helps in the enjoyment of Boneland, adding to the text layers of half-forgotten images. What I wanted to see, having read the book like that, was whether it worked as a sequel to the first two books, which was why I reread them and then read Boneland again. Boneland remains an extraordinary story in its own right, but it breaks too much history or ignores too many character traits established in its prequels to work as a completely satisfying sequel.