Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Books that deserve to be rediscovered: Part Two

The Golden Strangers, by Henry Treece (first published 1956)

My 1967 edition of The Golden Strangers, published a year after Henry Treece’s death, was reissued by Hodder and Stoughton in their library of great historical novels chosen by Rosemary Sutcliff. Introducing the novel, Sutcliff writes, “…it remains one of the best as well as one of the strangest historical novels that I have ever met.” The Golden Strangers is set on the English chalk downs in the shadowy world of Stonehenge, as the old Neolithic culture gives way to the early Bronze Age. That Treece’s mid-twentieth century view of prehistory may be somewhat outdated doesn’t alter the essential truth of the story.

Treece was a poet as well as a novelist. His haunting prose is at once lyrical and unflinchingly realistic, as he describes horrific events in a savage world ruled by ritual, superstition and taboo. In M. John Harrison’s words, “Through a stark and unmitigated realism Henry Treece conveys what it must have been like to believe in magic.” And from Rosemary Sutcliff: “(Treece) understood better than any writer I have ever read, the appalling intricacy of life in a primitive society.”

Treece was a prolific writer, producing four volumes of poetry, radio plays and works of criticism, as well as many historical novels set in Britain, Scandinavia and ancient Greece. Among his best work is his Celtic series of novels, which -- along with The Golden Strangers –includes The Dark Island, The Great Captains and Red Queen, White Queen. His last adult novel, The Green Man, set in sixth century northern Europe, is another of my favourites, though definitely not for the squeamish.. You can find a complete list at the Fantastic Fiction site.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Books that deserve to be rediscovered: Part One

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon & Rumer Godden (first published 1966)

This year, 2007, is the one hundredth anniversary of novelist Rumer Godden’s birth.

At the outbreak of the first world war, seven year old Rumer and her sister Jon left London to join the rest of their family in Narayangunj, East Bengal, (now Bangladesh) where their father worked for a steamship company. This memoir of the years from 1914 to 1919, written in collaboration with her sister Jon, is in their words, “not an autobiography as much as an evocation of a time that is gone.” Seen through the eyes of two bright, adventurous and perceptive children, it’s an extraordinarily detailed picture of life in an expatriate English family in India, in those early years of the twentieth century.

Rumer Godden’s 1946 novel The River (adapted into a movie by Jean Renoir) is very closely based on the same experiences described in Two Under the Indian Sun.