Alan Garner and Anthony McGowan – a sense of place

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog – a mix of book reviews and thoughts on reading and why it’s so important. I read a lot – books, newspapers, magazines. I was the kid under the covers with a torch, the one who needed to finish one more page. For a while I stopped reading as much, busy with young kids, reading to them and rediscovering brilliant children’s picture books and stories that I had enjoyed and a whole host of new authors but not having time to read for myself. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it – the sense of a book and the characters closing in around you and their reality becoming more important than your own. So I’m back to being the book worm, complete with varifocals to complete the look… and here’s my first attempt.

I’ve read The Stone Quartet by Alan Garner, Brock and Lark by Anthony McGowan all three books share something for me, a clear sense of place and time and the ability to see the world through the eyes of the child, not patronising but caring about what is important to them. Maybe it is also something about the area that they write about that speaks to me as a Northerner living in London.

In the Stone Quartet at the very top of the spire “Robert’s fingers touched a mark. It was cut deep as an arrow, but was straight and round lines together. It was writing. Real writing. And Robert shouted so that all the birds winged and filled the steeple and beat around him. His hands were reading over and over the carved letters, over and over they read his own name”.

Robert’s sense of wonder is clear and as the reader you know he has found his place in his surroundings. I love the thread of stories and family throughout the book, it’s magical with a lightness and clarity that makes you feel part of the landscape, a pattern that hasn’t changed for centuries.

Anthony McGowan in Brock and in Lark makes the world of Kenny and Nicky completely immediate and real. I am writing this just after reading Lark and having wept, proper sobs for the love shared by the boys and the clear sense of making the best of things. “Tell us a story” says Kenny and Nicky always delivers “Tina loved it there, on the moors. She didn’t want to come back to our town. There was a farmer waiting when we got to the road. He said that Tina could go to his farm, and he’d train her to be a sheepdog.”

The descriptions of the cold and the hopelessness of the situation are so vivid. They go out looking for larks and when Nicky eventually see one the description is beautiful – “The mad, ecstatic music of the lark. I peered into the brightness and saw the small bird straining upwards, it’s flight not like the easy, carefree swooping of the swallows and swifts. The lark’s flight was all effort, as if hauling itself up by sheer will – a wanting, a yearning. To fly and to sing was work, it was grit. And it was beautiful”. The Epilogue at the end of Lark is perfect.

So those are my first reviews in my very first blog. There will be more recommendations and thoughts based on why reading for pleasure is so fundamental to our mental well-being.

Thanks for reading.

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