Garner and Rovelli

covers of Rovelli and Garner booksOne of the lovely things about the first few weeks after Christmas, at least in my corner of the world, is having lots of new books to read. This year was a little different, however, because I found myself with an odd pair of books, loving both of them but unable to read either of them straight through.

There are places…

The yellow one is nonfiction. Rovelli is a theoretical physicist working on loop quantum gravity. The fact that a physicist could publish a book – any book – with such a title attracted me to him, and to it, immediately.

There Are Places turned out to be a collection of his newspaper articles, three to six pages each, on science, history, philosophy, religion and politics. Every single one was a pleasure to read – calm, lucid and enlightening – but I couldn’t read the book straight through.

My difficulty was that each essay gave me something to think about, which I like, but each was on a new topic, so each took up its own quota of thinking-space. After reading two or three in one sitting, I needed time to let them settle.

Treacle Walker

The black one is fiction, short-listed for the Booker prize – and how many fantasy titles can claim that status? And the author was a first-time nominee for the honour at the age of … 87! … after winning prizes for his YA fantasy way back in the 1960s. Treacle Walker only runs to 150 pages (and nearly 50 of them are blank because of chapter-title pages) but I couldn’t read the book straight through.

It was … too complex? Too concentrated?

But this is fantasy! It can’t be hard!

It was, though. I could only read two or three chapters (which are all short) before needing a break, and when I came back to it I needed to re-read the last of them before forging further ahead. And now that I’ve finished it, I think I need to read it all again to understand it.

I knew Garner was good. I didn’t know he was that good.

I rarely have two books on the go at once but alternating between these two was oddly satisfactory.

But perhaps not so oddly, because there are subterranean connections. The epigraph of Treacle Walker is a quotation from The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli:

“Time is ignorance.”

3 thoughts on “Garner and Rovelli”

  1. Most novels’ protagonists are roughly the age of their intended readers: books for children have children at their centre, YA books have teenagers or young adults, adults’ books centre on adults. Treacle Walker and Garner’s earlier Stone Book Quartet (also excellent, by the way) break this rule. So does Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, also highly recommended here and perceptively reviewed on NPR at

  2. David Sexton, a respected critic, introduced Kazuo Ishiguro’s books in The Guardian recently in an article titled “Where to start with Ishiguro?” When he got to The Buried Giant he called it “the weird one” (which is a big call, given the extreme individuality of the others) and had this to say about it:

    Throughout his career, Ishiguro has taken familiar genres, such as the butler comedy or the detective story, and turned them to his own ends. The Buried Giant is, quite weirdly, a late, great addition to Arthurian literature. The setting is Britain around 450AD, long after the Romans have departed. An elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off on a quest to find a long-lost son they no longer remember clearly and, after many trials, enter the land of a she-dragon whose breath casts a mist of forgetfulness. But perhaps this is to the good? For if the dragon is slain, as the knight Sir Gawain is planning to do, a buried giant will arise, releasing terrible memories.
    Ishiguro’s daughter, on reading a first draft, told her father he had gone too far this time, prompting an extensive rewrite. It is certainly a peculiar romance, not at all the literary Game of Thrones it was promoted as in the US – but it has its own unforgettable beauty. Perhaps the most revealing of all Ishiguro’s remarks about his work is the apparently offhand statement that for him, “the essence doesn’t lie in the setting”.

    I’m with Ishiguro on this. It’s a beautiful novel about grief and forgetting, not about Saxon Britain.
    Like Garner’s Strandloper and Treacle Walker, and for the same reasons, it requires re-reading.

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