Monday, 22 April 2013

Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick

The more Carnegie books I read, the harder it gets to pick a winner.  I don't want to sound too Bruce Forsythe, but every one is my favourite.  Midwinterblood is a Gothic love story, but not in the style to which we've become accustomed.  That tag line on the cover, by the way is terrible.  Don't let it put you off.

We start in the not too distant future (the 2070s), and a journalist looking for the secrets of the Dragon Orchid travels to a remote island so far into the Scottish North that the sun rarely sets.  Everybody knows each other.  There are no cars and no mobile devices.  No children.  It's eerie and mysterious, not unlike the Wickerman in the way that the island itself, not just its inhabitants are unsettling for reasons that it's hard to describe.  On Blessed island, Erik meets Merle and has the distinct feeling that they've met before, there's a deep connection that they both feel.  Each chapter jumps backwards to another time and another story.  A modern archaeological dig, World War II, the turn of the 20th Century, the Victorian era, Viking times and pre-history.  Each story depends on and is framed by the last, and each one ties Erik and Merle together in tighter and tighter knots.  I love how mysteries uncovered in 2011 are solved a few chapters later, 1200 years earlier.  The reverse chronology and the way that all the pieces fall into place is what holds the narrative together so beautifully.

Through the various recurrences of Erik and Merle, the author forces us to think about the nature of love and loss, eternity and sacrifice.  Their relationships might be vastly different with each life, but with each turn on Earth, they affect the life of the other in profound and sometimes unlikely ways.  Sedgwick manages to make the concept of eternal love seem powerfully tragic, without being sentimental.  He looks at literal eternal life (the Dragon Orchid has restorative and preserving qualities) and spiritual eternal life.

I loved the gothic element of this book.  Not just in your usual vampire way, which I suppose is what gothic has come to mean, but in the tone and the atmosphere of the island and the romantic, sensational behaviour of the people that inhabit it over the millennia.  I loved the menace that hung over certain parts of the story, the idea of souls searching for eachother over centuries and the blood sacrifice theme that runs throughout.  The victorian chapter in particular reminded me very much of The Turn of the Screw, with the framing device, the use of mournful ghosts and the element of forbidden love that unfolds itself throughout that story within the story.  Gave me shivers.

In conclusion, a beautifully written and very unusual book.  Enormously ambitious, but successful in what it attempts to do.  It really makes the reader feel like some sort of historical detective, assembling the pieces of a story that spans thousands of years in order to understand that which is impossible.  Love love loved it.

I really can't believe the quality of some of the YA fiction released in the last couple of years.
Midvinterblot by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson

No comments:

Post a Comment