Boneland is the third book in the Wierdstone Trilogy, started over 50 years ago with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.
Taking up the story decades on from the end of the second book, The Moon of Gomrath, it’s set in Cheshire (as the other books were) and (a huge treat for me) at Jodrell Bank Observatory – home of the beautiful Lovell telescope. It centres around the character of Colin, and his amnesia of the first 13 years of his life – including any knowledge of his twin sister, Susan, and the adventures they had.
Boneland isn’t a straightforward sequel – much time has passed between the stories and while Weirdstone and Gomrath were books marketed to children, this is definitely a book for adults. And all the more wonderful for being so! It continues the literary ambitions Garner first established in Red Shift, and executed so beautifully in Thursbitch and The Stone Book Quartet, and his later books. It’s a mature telling of a complex story that has developed over years, rather than a capping off of two books that, while being wonderful novels in themselves, had different ambitions for language and literature relevant to the times they were written in. They reflect something of the interests of the author back then, as Boneland does now.
When the book first came out the reviews were mixed; many people felt Garner should have produced a straightforward ‘Whatever happened to Susan?’ kind of book in the same vein as the first two – when we love something, we want it to continue – and I think I would have been happy with that, but I’m much, much happier with the book he did write. It’s a book for this reader – one who started reading fantasy because of Weirdstone and who has grown up in the intervening years with that first love of reading intact. It’s also a book that honours the development of a writer, and of an intelligent mind, and that is what calls to me – something numinous and important (a bit like the calls Colin hears in Boneland – although not as frightening!) and it’s something to go back to time and again. It’s true Boneland is a book of confusions and wrong-footings on the first-reading – but so is most of Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre and T.S. Eliot’s. Boneland is a book about excavation and exploration and looking for answers – if in Thursbitch Garner looked to the earth for answers, in Boneland he looks both to the earth (a common motif in Garner’s books) and to the night skies. And the way he makes Jodrell Bank a character rather than just a setting is just wonderful!
If you’re looking for a very easy science-fantasy read, then this is probably not the book for you, but if you want to get your teeth into something special then buy it, read it, then read it again.