book reviews by Althea

Thursbitch – Alan Garner ***

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When I was young, Alan Garner was one of my favorite authors. His books for children capture, possibly more than any others, the beauty and magic of British folklore. Naturally, I was excited when I found out, just recently, that he’s also written some material for adults (and, received an OBE for his contributions to English literature – a well-deserved honor.)

‘Thursbitch’ is the first ‘adult’ work by Garner that I was able to acquire (thanks to ILL!)

More of a study than a novel, ‘Thursbitch’ explores two sets of events in the titular Pennine valley. In the 18th century, we meet John Turner, a traveling trader and practitioner of traditional folk magic. In the modern day, we meet Sal and Ian, walking the same hills and rocks. Their lives touch, at moments, through time, exploring love, loss, and the connections between people…

I doubt whether I have ever encountered a more accurate or well-researched depiction of the speech and behavior of (extremely) rural, isolated 18th-century Britons. Garner is a linguist, and this book concentrates heavily on language. It’s fascinating, but also makes for a rather challenging read.

In the present, Sal is an accomplished geologist – who is also suffering from a debilitating brain disease. So she also speaks in an argot, which makes an interesting contrast.

(I did wonder whether it would be as challenging for speakers of UK English, and whether this factored into why it hasn’t been published in the USA.)

As a work of literature, ‘Thursbitch’ is impressive and interesting. However, emotionally, I didn’t love it as much as I’ve loved Garner’s other works.


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