Tag Archives: The Gracekeepers

The Gracekeepers: A rattling good tale, beautifully told

Cover imageThere’s been a great deal of eager anticipation for Kirsty Logan’s debut in my neck of the Twitter woods. Not the rather over-excited ‘whoop, whoop’ that can be a bit trying – more a steady hum, some of it coming from a friend who runs the Bristol Short Story Prize whose opinion I trust. Logan has already published The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, a much-praised short story collection – the press release for The Gracekeepers quotes a reviewer in the Independent comparing her to Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson which must make you come over all hot and cold if you’re a newly published author. In her strikingly imaginative novel, land has been reduced to far-flung islands set in a sea traveled by evangelical revivalists, the military and the Excalibur circus.

It begins with a vivid scene – a woman dances with a bear mirrored by ‘a small girl and a small bear, hands and paws interlinked’ – remembered by Callanish, a gracekeeper who tends the dead in a world divided into ‘damplings’ who travel the seas, despised by ‘landlockers’ who inhabit the islands. One day, the Excalibur lands on Callanish’s island needing her services for an acrobat who perished in a desperate storm. Excalibur is all glitter and tat. Its ringmaster has his eyes set on restoring the family reputation, setting up his son with North, the young girl who dances with her bear, entrancing the landlockers with their funeral waltz. They’re a discontented company – the clowns are intent on subversion, the ‘glamours’ love to gossip, neither North nor Ainsel want to marry each other and everyone dislikes the ringmaster’s wife who flaunts her pregnancy at every opportunity. North has one priority: keeping her beloved bear safe and happy. When she and Callanish meet, each is drawn to the other but there are many sea miles to sail and stories to be told before they will see each other again.

Logan had me from the first page with her gorgeous use of language: ‘a trio of tattooed ladies, hair bright as petals’ describes the ‘glamours’; ‘Dreams were still caught on the insides of her eyelids’ for the barely awake Callanish; ‘Waves chuttered and shwacked against the moorings of Callanish’s house’. Beautiful descriptive passages summon up this flooded world which seems to have come about after a cataclysm. There are some nods to discontents and problems in our own world: some islands are notable for their ruined tower blocks, North is shown a city sunk far beneath the sea and the clowns – Cash, Dough and Dosh – frequently lampoon bankers playing upon landlockers’ resentments. But this isn’t your common or garden dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel, it’s more a beautiful fantasy which plays with myth and folktales. The press release has a short interview in which Logan describes her themes as ‘non-traditional family, love, belonging, autonomy, home and hunger (both physical and emotional)’  –  an ambitious list, but she succeeds in exploring them all. It’s also a rattling good tale, and that cover is a thing of beauty.

If you’d like to read another review of The Gracekeepers, nip over to Word by Word.

Books to Look Out For in May 2015

Cover imageBack from sunny Spain on Saturday to a UK where spring has most definitely sprung. More of that later in the week but here’s a taster of things to come next month to be going on with and there are three absolute corkers to look forward to in May’s list. Let’s start with the jewel in the crown which you may well know about already given how much pre-publicity there’s been for it: Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, a companion volume to the wonderful Life After Life. I’m still mystified as to why that hasn’t been garlanded with prizes, but then, what do I know. A God in Ruins, interweaves Ursula Todd’s younger brother Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot with his life lived into the twenty-first century. To an extent it sounds a little like a state of the nation novel but don’t expect a straightforward linear narrative.

An exponent of that elegant, pared-back writing that the Irish seem to excel at, Anne Enright has a new novel out in May. The Green Road is about the Madigan family of County Clare. When their mother decides it’s time to sell the family home and divvy up the proceeds between her four children they return from all over the world to spend one last Christmas in the house they grew up in.

Jane Smiley’s Early Warning is set in similar territory, picking up the story of the Langdons Cover image in the second in her Last Hundred Years trilogy. It opens in 1953 at a funeral attended by Rosanna and Walter’s sons and daughters, all grown up with children of their own. Some Luck was among the best books I read last year so I’m looking forward to this middle volume which takes the family into the 1980s. I gather that the third will be appearing not long after this one.

Still in North America but moving on to Canada, Sarah Leipciger’s The Mountain Can Wait has been compared to Margaret Atwood by no less than Nickolas Butler, author of the sublime Shotgun Lovesongs. I imagine that’s a mixed blessing when you’ve only just published your first novel. It’s about a father trying to track down his son in the Canadian Wilderness after a terrible accident, and so enamoured am I with Mr Butler’s writing that a claim extravagant enough to bring out the old cynic in me has still made me want to read it.

The GracekeepersAnd finally, my last choice for May is actually an April title: Kirsty Logan’s The Gracekeepers which was brought forward a little in the publishing schedules. Her short stories are so highly rated by several people whose opinions I trust that I didn’t want to miss it out. It’s set in a flooded world in which sails a circus boat, home to North who dances with her bear in return for food. Callanish is a gracekeeper, tending the graves on an island in the middle of the sea. When these two are thrown together by a storm they are irresistibly drawn to each other but find may obstacles in their way. Perhaps a little fantastical for my usual taste but I’ve been promised some very fine writing and what a wonderfully eye-catching jacket.

That’s it for May. As ever, a click will take you to Waterstones website for a fuller synopsis. Here are my April hardback choices if you’d like to catch up with those. Such were the splendours of April paperback offerings that I’ve posted on them twice – here and here.