‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’ by Wells Tower

This is a story about a Viking, Harald, who takes a holiday from domestic life to go raiding along the coast of Lindisfarne.

You could say that those people on Lindisfarne were fools, living out there on a tiny island without high cliffs or decent natural defenses, and so close to us and also the Swedes and the Norwegians, how we saw it, we couldn’t afford not to come by and sack every now and again. But when we came into the bright little bay, a quiet fell over all of us.

The most striking thing about this story for me is the unfussy, contemporary directness of Harald’s voice. How can a voice encompass such a wide range of vocabularies so seamlessly? How can Harald talk about settling into his ‘domestic groove’ one minute and then hydras and dragons the next? How can he create compounds like “flint-edged” here and then “grab-assing” there? He calls his children jits (US prison slang) and then describes the wind bellying the sails in elegiac prose. You start thinking, with the right voice, maybe a story can encompass anything?

First published in Fence, 2002 and collected in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Granta, 2009, and available to read online here

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