Cover Illustrator : Errol Forbes
Setting: 1750s, 2000s, Cheshire
Go back. What was must never be.
–Alan Garner - Thursbitch - c.2003
Part of my RIP reading
Here John Turner was cast away in a heavy snow storm in the night in or about the year 1755.
The print of a woman’s shoe was found by his side in the snow where he lay dead.
This enigmatic memorial stone, high on the bank of a prehistoric Pennine track in Cheshire, is a mystery that lives on in the hill farms today.
Thursbitch, from Old English þyrs (demon) and bæch (valley), although Garner himself thinks that maybe þyrs is better translated as “something big”. If that doesn’t pique your interest then this is not the book for you. Personally I loved it. It is strange and small and personal and intimate, and yet all about humanity and life and the landscape itself. Sparse and detailed all at the same time.
But it certainly is not a book that everyone will enjoy. And you have to be in the right mood to read it. If I had read it at a different time I may have hated it.
It is a book that throws you in at the deep end, no soft introduction to what the hell is going on, it just begins, and the reader has to figure it out as they go along. So I think it is a book that will really reward a reread whenever I get the time to revisit it.
One of the themes that Garner often writes about it a sense of place. Of the history of place, and how people can know somewhere so utterly that it is almost a part of them. How place shapes language and identity. But also, how outside forces threaten that knowledge and that intimacy, whether those forces are religion or a centralising authority. His work always strikes me as being about colonialism in a way, even though he is English and writing about English people and English places. We sometimes forget, I think, that England wasn’t always one country, and that even in its recent history there were people who say themselves as local first and English a very distant second. And to be English meant to live as people in London lived. I remember reading Lassie when I was younger, and they had the thees and thous but only at home. In school they were forced to speak “proper English”. Of course, not only did they have to speak a different language but they had to conform to different rules and ways of doing things.
There is a line in Hell or Highwater where one character (Native American) says something to the effect that every people were once the people who were taken over and subsumed into their conqueror’s culture until they became the conqueror. I can’t remember the exact line, but that is an idea I agree with, to a certain extent.
Back to Thursbitch.
It is just an experience to read this book. The simplicity and depth of it make for a very interesting reading experience, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is atmospheric and haunting, and just a rewarding read.