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Strandloper (Harvill Panther) Paperback – July 3, 1997
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"A work of terrible beauty" -- Nicci Gerard * Observer * "A remarkable feat of literary imagination" -- Stephen Amidon * Sunday Times * "Strandloper's vision is cosmic and as elusive as a rainbow... The ending gathers the words into a powerful cry for wisdom that recognises the ineffable" -- Rosemary Sorensen * Sydney Morning Herald *
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Garner's 'Thursbitch' is the mature novel that 'Stradloper' grew up to become. The indigenous culture of ritual magic in 'Thursbitch' remains rooted in the British peasant countryside, a culture that Garner invokes more convincingly than that of Aboriginal Australia. Relationships between characters are far richer, and Garner's expert use of dialogue as narrative shorthand works beautifully. After reading 'Thursbitch,' I can't help seeing Garner's earlier novels as part of a learning curve leading to his masterpiece.
When he plunges into the 200-year old country life of north-west England, at first it is bewildering...but then one recalls that in that countryside, daily life still included much of the ancient pre-Christian beliefs and practices, and even the fertility rituals of "cockle-bread." And the ironclad structure of social classes is well summed up in the actions of Sir John Stanley and his anger at the "Jacobin" texts that William has been practicing handwriting with, though not understanding. Ironically, it was Stanley's son who had been helping William to learn - but this never comes up in "the family" - what matters is that Stanley will not allow the peasants to learn to read. The memory of the French Revolution was fresh, and Stanley does not allow anything to upset the sacred role of property. "MY oaks have been lopped" he says angrily when the peasants have cut a few branches to celebrate a ritual.
The deepest part of the story however is the underlying almost mystical connection between William and the aborigines whose leader he becomes. Before he is ever sent to Australia, at the moment when his fate is being decided in the country church, words of the aboriginal language come to him over the thousands of miles and burst from him. To the vicar he is "speaking in tongues." Garner gives full credence to the oft-documented psychic powers of the Australian natives and seems to enter deeply into their world. I think he is very much in tune with Jung's "collective unconscious" and with Deepak Chopra's statement that we are all basically waves on an ocean: You can perceive and define an individual wave, it has an identity, a beginning, duration, and end, but it is also absolutely a part of the ocean. We are all bound together and connected in a very real way.
After the first reading, take the time to look up some of the old dialect words where the meaning could not easily be deduced - you will have a fascinating journey through many old philological works and feel immersed in an older and in many ways richer world. Then return to the book and see how much meaning is packed into every sentence. It is the richest, densest prose one can imagine. I've just ordered "Thursbitch" to move forward with my Garner readings.