London: Fourth Estate Books, 2012; £16.99 hc; 160 pages
Redhill, Surrey: Naxos Audiobooks, 2012; £11.00; 4:56
It is difficult to avoid seeing Boneland (2012) as a valedictory text. Not only does it represent an act of closure, completing as it does a trilogy which began with Garner’s first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960), but it feels too like an act of remembrance, revisiting the themes that have appeared in so many of Garner’s other novels. In particular, we meet again the gifted but troubled adolescent male, intellectually precocious but emotionally stunted, who has figured in so much of Garner’s fiction. We are also introduced once more to the landscape of Cheshire, Garner’s home county, although in Boneland Garner will venture much deeper into its mythic past than he has ever done previously. Indeed, almost everything about this novel suggests more of the same yet carried out with so much more intensity than ever before. Perhaps most significant of all, Garner finally engages directly, or as directly as I think he is ever going to, with the story that has underpinned so much of his literary practice—Gawain and the Green Knight, composed in the Northwest Mercian dialect by an unknown poet around 1400 (that is, around the time Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were first published). The Gawain-poet, and indeed Arthurian stories generally, have been a shadowy presence in all of Garner’s work, but here his work is more immediately present than it has ever been before.