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Red Shift, by Alan Garner

May 20th, 2008 (02:24 pm)

I tried to read Red Shift about thirteen years ago, and couldn't attune myself to it; I explained this to the gentleman referred to in these pages as Naciens the Hermit, who expressed a measure of horror appropriate to someone with a profound moral disability. I've returned to Red Shift in the last few days, and found it much more accessible. Thematically, Red Shift develops the projection of ancient mythology into the present day found in Garner's The Owl Service, but instead of this being one tale with parallels, we are presented with three stories of sexual relationships across the history of the same area on the Cheshire-Staffordshire border, one in the Roman period, one in the English Civil War, one in the 1970s, linked by a stone axe and the facility with which the male in each relationship is possessed by rage and uncertainty characterised by images of blue and silver. The axe is a repository for the losses and hopes of love affairs; though many of these, and the axe itself, are betrayed in the present, the insecurities of the past are in some ways resolved and redeemed by the surrender of the axe made in the twentieth century. The story is built up by careful strokes of a fine brush; the pattern is intricate and supported by detailed colour, and occasionally obscured, like the ancient path that Jan and Tom follow across Crewe and through Basford sidings.


Posted by: Elaine of Astolat (ladyofastolat)
Posted at: May 20th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)

I really must reread this one day. I read it aged 14 or so, and really didn't get it. I read it again when at Oxford, and remained baffled. Maybe it'll be third time lucky.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 20th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)

Red Shift resonated with me a lot more than it did when I was in my twenties - I was too bored to finish it then - but I've certainly learned more about people since then, and I think that's what I needed to appreciate it. Other people have other ways in, perhaps, though I see it's now settled down as a Voyager book rather than a Collins children's book. One of the Amazon links reveals what I thought was a 1975 Lions paperback cover, but on closer inspection is 1980s.

Edited at 2008-05-20 04:37 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Becky (beckyc)
Posted at: May 22nd, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)

Did you ever decode the text in the back? It's not too hard, but it is fun.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 22nd, 2008 09:19 am (UTC)

Looking for the decoding method online led me to the translation, which made the book's ending more ambiguous but more in keeping with what I'd have expected of Garner.