Earlier this year I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner, and I had many many thoughts about it, and I enjoyed it a huge amount even if I wasn’t sure if I got everything that was going on. I will reread it at some point. But then I was ordering books at work and spotted The voice that thunders by Garner and said, ah sure lets give it a go. I’m sure some author recommended it somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me recall who or where.
And when it came in it sat on my trolley for many many months, but eventually I figured it was time for a bit of non-fiction. I’ve read very little that wasn’t fiction this year.
The Voice that Thunders was a great bit of non-fiction, and if you follow me on tumblr you probably have some indication that I enjoyed it, given how much I was quoting from it. The book is basically a collection of essays and lectures that Garner has given over the years. Writing, life, history, language, people, place, mental health, all these feature in various essays, and I have to say that I loved this book.
I didn’t always agree with exactly what Garner was saying, but he writes so well that I just couldn’t help but admire him. He writes about truth and fiction, about life and living, and about how he always tries to be honest and sometimes that means making things up. If you have any interest in writing I would recommend you read something by Garner, preferably this book as well as some of his fiction.
There is one chapter where he describes getting letter after letter from school children, obviously at the urging of their teacher. One class in particular that the teacher had described as enjoying the book so much damn it utterly, telling Garner that he shouldn’t have written the book, that it was boring, that there was no action, no humour. He doesn’t relate this in order to give out about the children, but rather to point out this disconnect between the teacher and the pupils. He has many other letters that praise his books, that reveal how Garner’s work has touched people’s lives, so you don’t need to feel sorry for reading a series of such horrible feedback.
Another major theme of many of the essays is the importance of language and a sense of place1 to Garner’s writing and to his sense of himself as a person. He describes having his mouth washed out with carbolic soap for speaking with his natural accent/dialect. And how all through his education he was taught the “correct” way to speak English, only when grown and studying Old English did he realise that that “correct” English wasn’t any more correct that any other form of English, it was simply the dialect and accent of the winners.
And of course we know that colonising powers often stamp out indigenous languages, people are backwards for not learning English, but it stuck me then that the English did that first of all in their own country, before beginning to work their way around the world.
One other little thing that I really liked about Garner’s essays was the way he uses the term Australians. Usually if you read about Australians you are reading about the white Australians, but Garner uses it when discussing the original Australians, which only makes sense, they were there first after all.
I borrowed this book from the library but I really think I need to own a copy at some stage. I also need to read a whole heap more of Garner’s work, whether that is his fiction or his non-fiction I don’t mind.
his family have lived in the same place for untold generations. The cover image is a photo of a rock-carving by Robert Garner, Alan’s great great grandfather, carved around 1840 ↩