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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fiction vs. Fact in Alan Garner's STRANDLOPER

 Here's the first review that I've written for this blog.  A shorter version will appear on Goodreads.  It deals with a novel that is loosely based on the life of William Buckley, an Englishman who was transported to Australia in 1803.

I very much enjoyed  Strandloper.  Other readers might have trouble with the dialects in this novel.  I was able to decipher them without much difficulty, but the author gives no explanations or assistance to readers.  Another caveat is that Garner’s radical divergence from history might disturb those who prefer their historical fiction to be closer to verifiable facts.  When historical figures are fictionalized, it’s delightful when the result speaks to me on a personal level, and is congruent with my own values.  This is a lovely fiction from my perspective. It reminds me of all those very compelling Pagan martyr fictions about Hypatia of Alexandria.  It’s too bad that the truth about Hypatia is more complex. I am someone who tends to research historical fiction when I’m interested in the subject it covers. So I proceeded to uncover the truth about William Buckley, the historical protagonist of Strandloper. ( Please note that if you are searching for him on the internet, you should add Australia to your search terms to avoid being deluged with results related to the conservative pundit William F. Buckley. )
Yes, William Buckley was from a small village in Cheshire, England. Yet beyond this fact, Alan Garner begins to depart from the actual biography of his subject in a major way.  The fictional  character called William Buckley is a Pagan visionary who seems to live more on the mystical plane than in what most of us consider reality.  Not only this, he was taught to read.  This was a rare accomplishment for country villagers in the England of his era.  The real William Buckley lived from 1780-1856 according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  He was neither a Pagan nor a visionary, and he died illiterate. Garner’s Buckley hadn’t ever left his village before his arrest and transport to Australia. Although there isn’t agreement among the sources that I consulted about the reason why the real Buckley was transported, they do agree that Buckley fought Napoleon in Holland. It seems to me that the fictional Buckley of Strandloper is more likely to have been confined to Bedlam than to have had any kind of a military career.  I loved the ability of Garner’s character to immerse himself in Australian aborigine culture.  The real Buckley lived among the aborigines for 32 years, but he had a more ambivalent relationship with them.   I was interested to learn that Australians admire Buckley’s unlikely survival in the outback so much that they call a low probability of success “Buckley’s chance”.

If you would like to learn more about the real William Buckley, here are the resources that I found:

The Life and Adventures of William Buckley
 This is the Goodreads book page for a biography of Buckley that appeared in 1852 while Buckley was still alive.  Although it wasn't well received when it was first published, historians now see it as an accurate portrayal of Buckley's experiences and Australian aborigine culture. 

Article on William Buckley in The Australian Dictionary of Biography

Article on William Buckley from Cheshire Magazine

 A video dramatization of Buckley's life with the aborigines on an Australian blog

Video on  the same Australian blog about William Buckley

William Buckley on Wikipedia

In conclusion, even though Strandloper can't be considered historically accurate, it was an amazingly good story.  It also led me to learn a bit more about Australian history through the research I did on William Buckley after reading it.  I'm glad I selected this book as my Australian read for the Around the World challenge. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reviewing For The Bookplex

This month I found out about The Bookplex  through a post on Goodreads.  They do giveaways of both print and e-versions of books.  I have become a reviewer for them.  Below is my first review for The Bookplex.

                                                            The Other Covenant

 The central focus of this novel, Elizabeth Mitchell, is both a psychologist and a magical enforcer.  She is sworn to track down magical malefactors and prevent them from doing further harm.  This doesn’t set her apart from other heroines in the popular urban fantasy genre.  It’s actually her opponents that are unusual.  Caroline Crosby hasn’t taken refuge in the current formulas of urban fantasy.  There are no purely evil villains of demonic origin, nor do they shamble through the streets as soulless zombies.  Instead she presents us with fully developed human characters who have backgrounds, and motivations for their actions.

There is also a romance dimension to The Other Covenant involving two couples.  I found the portrayal of these relationships touching and compelling.  These romances made me care more about the characters without overwhelming the story line.

The historical aspect was not so well handled.  In alternating chapters, portions of a manuscript appear detailing the history of a secret organization of magical adepts called The Covenant.  The early sections of this manuscript aren’t engaging, and slow the pace of the book.  Once the historical narrative reaches the lifetime of the manuscript’s author detailing his own experiences, the writing feels more immediate and the novel as a whole begins to have more impact.  It seems to me that a few flashbacks to key events in the earlier history of the Covenant from the perspectives of the participants would have been more dramatic.

It’s a shame that the pace drags in the first half of The Other Covenant because there’s so much to like in the second half.  Readers who have patience will be rewarded by a truly satisfying resolution.



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Around The World Challenge

I've  been participating in the Around the World in 52 Books Challenge on Goodreads.  So far I've read books from sixteen different countries, and have started the seventeenth. Above is the current map of my book destinations from Travellerspoint

The list of countries and historical periods that I've "visited" so far is as follows:
  1. Ireland  670
  2. Japan  19th century
  3. Mongolia 12th century
  4. Laos 1978
  5. Israel 1977
  6. Mexico 16th century
  7. Greece  5th century B.C.E.
  8. Egypt   The Present
  9. Haiti   late 18th century-- early 19th century
  10. Sri Lanka  1990's
  11. France  15th century
  12. Canada 1940's
  13. Scotland 1950's
  14. England 16th century
  15. Iran  17th century
  16. Bhutan  earlier in the 21st century
  17. Australia  18th century

I'm posting the Around the World challenge book review that I wrote that received the most votes on Goodreads.

                                                                   Klee Wyck

I had considered reading The Forest Lover,which is a novel about Emily Carr by Susan Vreeland , as my Canada book for Around The World in 52 books, but I'm glad I didn't settle for Emily Carr at second hand. She writes lovely prose.

Here is my favorite quote from this book:

"Down deep we all hug something. The great forest hugs its silence. The sea and the air hug the spilled cries of sea birds."

Emily Carr traveled to various Canadian First Peoples villages to sketch their totem poles and other carvings. I think she may be patronizing about their religion, but she has compassion for them as victims of persecution and tries to help them stand up for themselves. In one village where all Caucasians had been expelled, they welcomed Emily Carr.

There are illustrations of three of Emily Carr's paintings in this book. I particularly loved her painting of a mother and infant carving.