‘The Stone Book’ by Alan Garner

I got into Garner as an adult, when I was thinking more and more about English vocabulary, and how our decisions to use Latinate or Germanic words in our writing profoundly alters its effect. Garner’s understanding, and control, of language, is astounding, and The Stone Book Quartet is a masterclass in how to draw the reader’s emotions straight from the gut with even a simple tale. Alongside almost pure Germanic (or Anglo-Saxon) vocabulary, Garner also freckles these stories with local dialect, including words now entirely lost to most of us. This does not hinder understanding, but enhances it. At the beginning of ‘The Stone Book’, we watch Mary take her father’s lunch to him at work, which means climbing the scaffolding right to the top of the new church spire. ‘“You’re not frit?”’ he asks her. She is not, and so with one heft he has her up sitting on the golden weathercock at the spire’s pinnacle, which he then spins, round and round, as Mary whoops and gazes out at the green world spread beneath her. If you can read this without gulping, from fear and heart-swell, you are a hard reader indeed.

In The Stone Book Quartet, Flamingo new edition 1999, first published 1979

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