This week we published Alan Garner’s Red Shift. Garner is famous for his children’s fantasy stories and re-tellings of traditional British folk tales, firmly rooted in the landscape, history, and folklore of his native county, Cheshire. Red Shift is considered one of his best works, and while sharing the natural landscape of Chesire—a central theme is Mow Crop, pictured below—it has a complexity and bleakness that other of his books lack. Here’s Emma Donoghue, author of The Room, writing about Red Shift:
The pared-down, enigmatic dialogue and fractured stream of consciousness in Red Shift demands to be read more as poetry than prose. The style reminds me at times of the all-pervasive dread in Shirley Jackson’s ghost stories, at others of the tense exchanges in Harold Pinter’s plays, at others of Alan Bennett at his funniest. (‘You great wet Nelly,’ Tom’s father tells him. ‘You’re about as much use as a chocolate teapot.’)
Inspired by a graffito Garner glimpsed at a railway station - ‘not really now not any more’ - this existentialist novel assumes that everything dies, and ‘it’s a pretty mean galaxy’. Red Shift has a pagan sensibility but even the Roman soldiers paraphrase Genesis 13:8: ‘let there be no strife, for we are brothers’. Somehow the continuities console; the pattern repeats, and love just might win next time. The novel ends with a two-page letter encrypted using Lewis Carroll’s code.
Garner, who was awarded an OBE in 2001, lives with bipolar disorder, and this slim masterpiece is in the tradition of mad kings Sweeney and Lear; a message from the frontiers of pain. More than any orthodox work of historical fiction, it was this weird fantasy novel which taught me to look beyond the walls of my own era, my own reality. Garner makes the past numinous, terrifyingly real: anything but passed.