The basic premise of 'The Circling Song' is deceptively simple. A man suffers a head injury and develops unusual abilities as a result. But the lengths to which this is taken, and the manner in which it gets there, make this novella one of the finest pieces of writing I've come across.
The structure is unusual. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the story is told through a series of letters, extracts from journals, official reports, and so on. The technique has been used before, though its not common, but I was impressed by how well these disparate elements have been woven together. The writing is not only coherent, it has a smooth flow, a pace and tension that swiftly drew me in and got me absorbed in the story.
Set in the First World War, the style is authentic, and each character has their own distinct voice. The appalling conditions of life in the trenches is portrayed convincingly through the words of the various protagonists.
Through it all, the mystery of what has happened to Private Henry Lawrence slowly unfolds. As he and those working with him come to understand the extent of his new abilities, our eyes are opened to the possibility of entire levels of reality beyond our normal perception. Yet in spite of the immense potential that these abilities give him, Lawrence is still very much a person of his time, caught up in the horror and waste of war. The irony is that the very conflict that gave him his new talent (through a bullet wound) also dictates how he must use it, and where it will take him. Is that, I wonder, part of 'The Circling Song' referred to in the title?
I wouldn't want to risk spoiling this for other readers, so I will just say that this is one of the best things I've read in a long time. Brilliantly conceived, wonderfully well crafted, beautifully worded and with deep and intriguing implications. Highly recommended!