Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy to be Home

Well we made it back from the borders in one piece despite the best efforts of the weather to keep us there. Admittedly had we not run out of wood for the fire we might well have stayed put (whisky supplies where still good and I had a book and a half left) but work calls and in all honesty the snow is far more appealing when your not trapped by it.

So... just in case anyone was wondering the first book of the year was a last minute Oxfam purchase; ‘The Cunning Man’ from the pen of Robertson Davies. Some years ago I picked up ‘The Cornish Trilogy’ in Waterstone’s Piccadilly when it was part of a campus novels table. I then forgot about it for quite a long time – in fact until I bought the first part of the Salterton trilogy read it and loved it – imagine my joy at finding I already had another Davies omnibus just waiting for me already. ‘The Cunning Man’ was a bit of a find because I hadn’t really been aware of it, I’m seeing it as a Christmas present from fate, and it’s certainly set the tone for my reading so far this year (yes a whole 9 days of it).

The Cunning Man’ takes in Anglo Catholicism, sin, temptation, holistic medicine, friendship, love, betrayal, murder, and something of what it means to be Canadian. It’s a heady mix which Davies pulls off in an extraordinary way. He keeps me reading where a lesser writer would not, from the first sentence; “Should I have taken the false teeth?” to his last All of that in reply to a wrong number for the Odeon, and it’s meant to be as self conscious as it sounds. Davies trick is balancing the ridiculous with the heavy. ‘The Cunning Man’ as well as being a meditation on personal philosophy also has a sort of murder mystery (was it a murder?) running through it whilst being a sort of mixed up biography of Jon Hullah the cunning man of the title.
“No, this is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Good-night.”

Mixed up in that the narrative takes the form of a set of notes he makes over 4 years looking back on his life as it occurs to him rather than in strict chronological order. A device that suits me down to the ground, intimation’s of the end appear all the way through, and skipping to the actual end told me nothing so I had to keep reading to unravel everything. I was glued to this book all the way north on the train, and for every moment I got alone until it was finished, not just because I wanted to find how it finished, but also to work out the beginning as well, and to take in some of the gothic detailing as well.

Pulling in under Edinburgh castle reading Davies felt somehow appropriate, I’m sure he would have delighted in it (and probably did, I realise I could do a lot more actual research on Davies) I’m also sure that J K Rowling is a fan. There’s something in the way they both put together names for characters and throw in little things that send me chasing a reference (or leave me feeling a bit smug because I already understand the allusion) that I love about both writers and which feels like an homage in Rowling. Like Rowling, Davies books are very re readable – the devil’s in the detail, so each reading will reveal something new.


  1. Welcome back! Hope the return to work isn't too tedious.

  2. Hi Verity, hope your return/new job works out well, have been admiring your new books already, and am almost looking forward to returning to work now.