Alan Garner Clara M. Siggins - Essay

Clara M. Siggins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Red Shift" is a stranger than strange composite novel blending illusion and reality in a peculiar technique. Three stories are superimposed in a time-spliced, tension-packed package dealing with lovers and lunacy in what well may rival the mystery of a [Samuel] Beckett tour de force.

If a novel is supposed to be news about people, the news is garbled. The plot lines are as jagged as a flash of lightning in the distance and as illuminating. The nomenclature confuses too. The story goes back and forth among three men in three different periods of time. The most easily understood segment of the story is the twentieth-century Tom…. Tom is in love with Jan, who has had an affair with another man before meeting Tom—but this is a true love with as rough a terrain to cross as star-crossed lovers ever crossed.

Another story interwined, and by no means throwing light on Tom-Jan, is a story set in the second century in Britain. This is a bloody, rough, and cruel story, of the warring tribes and Roman Legions…. The third story woven in and out through the other two, and not seemingly part of either one, is set in seventeenth-century England during the civil wars. The only point of connection is that an axe—a votive axe—is a central part in each story…. One can only speculate that the author, an archaeologist and historian, on finding such an axe, let his fanciful imagination play with the infinite possibilities of the stories connected with it over the ages.

That each story is a struggle—each a love story—stirs the imagination. Coupling humor and horror, naturalistic presentation with fantasy, and rendered in language that seems obtrusive, this novel leaves the reader puzzled, even exasperated.

Clara M. Siggins, "Fiction: 'Red Shift'," in Best Sellers (copyright 1973, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 33, No. 17, December 1, 1973, p. 387.