Alan Garner Tony Watkins - Essay

Tony Watkins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Red Shift (1973), pattern is all-important. The prose is lean and meaning elusive: the outline of patterns delicately traced (as in the axehead that links the levels of the story) is what remains in the mind after reading the novel, together with many questions and puzzles. Time past and time present mingle, resonate, and finally coalesce. As in the previous books, the past is never lost: it may be overlaid perhaps, but, looking carefully, one can still distinguish the old lines, the old tracks, and here they lead to the sacred places, the centres of energy at which people worship: sacred mound and church stand close by one another in Red Shift.

The forces at work are transmuted and realised in different forms in the three strands of time: in each, a young man and young woman attempt to shape a loving relationship in a world of violent destructiveness. Tom, Thomas, and Macey are aspects of one another: each of them sees beyond the normal bounds of vision and the results are powerfully disturbing. (p. 48)

The meaning is oblique, ambiguous, at times infuriatingly tantalising. It seems to lie partly within the geometry of relationships in the book: between the triangles set up by characters, places, times. It is implied, hinted at, rather than stated. All this makes the novel difficult to write about explicitly. But the same concerns are as in the earlier books—it is as if Alan Garner were working and reworking the seams of a landscape and the result is a novel whose texture is as uncompromising as millstone grit. (p. 49)

Tony Watkins, "Alan Garner: Postscript on 'Red Shift'," in Good Writers for Young Readers, edited by Dennis Butts (copyright © 1977 Hart-Davis Educational), Hart-Davis, 1977, pp. 48-9.