The Owl Service by Alan Garner and Misfortune by Wesley Stace

I am a great admirer of Alan Garner's work, and share his fascination with certain themes - an almost obsessive sense of place, in which locations and geography assume lives of their own; a feeling of the past threatening to overwhelm the present; the 'Stone Tape' theory; English rural folklore. The Owl Service is at once tragic, beautiful, difficult, touching and brutal, and I can't help wondering if, were a children's writer to attempt to publish a book like this today, any publisher would have the guts to take it on. These days, we seem scared to challenge children with books like this - books that are exquisitely written, uncompromising and ambiguous. Thank god for the 60s.

My next book was Misfortune by Wesley Stace. Stace is apparently also a folk musician under a different name, and I shall be checking out his work, as I adored this book. A bizarre tale of gender confusion and family ties, it reads like an insane cross between Bleak House, Gormenghast, Orlando and The Moonstone with a tiny hint of A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Beginning in the 1820s, it tells the story of Rose Old, rescued from a rubbish heap as an abandoned baby by the effete Lord Geoffroy Loveall and raised as his daughter and sole heir in a desperate bid to replace his young sister, Dolores, with whom he is still obsessed after her death as a five-year-old, decades previously. 

Unfortunately, the baby is a boy.

I should point out that this book does have its faults. Historically, Stace appears to be confused, as despite being set largely in the Victorian era, there are certain details that seem to be borrowed from the early Regency period. Moreover, there are a number of digressions which I felt could have been edited down considerably. Some readers, too, might be irked by a few remarkable coincidences - although I considered them to be appropriate for the genres from which Stace appears to be drawing his inspiration.

Despite these minor faults, Misfortune is a remarkable achievement for a first novel. Darkly comic, occasionally bawdy, occasionally heartbreakingly sad and frequently all three at once, it sucks the reader into the borderline-surreal world of the Lovealls and their even-crazier, money-hungry relatives, each of which is a hilarious but sinister grotesque more repulsive than the last. There are characters to love and characters to hate, but each one is drawn in exquisite detail, from Rose himself right down to Pharaoh, the idiot-savant who realises the package he's been asked to dispose of contains a premature baby, and Geoffroy Loveall's monstrous, bed-ridden ageing mother.



  1. Only you would have curmudgeonliness as a tag. And damn, that's hard to spell.

    You write great reviews. As you know, I've got Misfortune on my Amazon wish-list. I can't wait to read it.

    I have a mild liking for Glee, but the rest, meh. Although, for "summer," if I could substitute, "90 degree weather," then I'd be in. Because everyone enjoys telling me that it's not wonderful weather unless it's that hot. Which is far too hot, by about 20 degrees.

    (American degrees) (LOL!!!!)

  2. I am convinced that I've got Seasonal Affective Disorder, only where other people get it in winter, I get it in summer.

    Apart from not liking heat, burning easily, reacting horribly to insect bites, coming out in a rash in the sunshine and getting hayfever, I really resent the fact that I have to work all through it. I should clearly have become an academic, because ever since I graduated from university, my entire being has been screaming to me that I should still be entitled to at least six or eight weeks off, come early July.


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