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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book like few others
I read this book when I was 14 - it was one of several that my English teacher recommended, not as part of the school curriculum, but because he thought they were good books (these were halcyon pre-National Curriculum days where teachers could often follow their own enthusiams, and thus build the same in others).

I cannot recall what else he recommded now, but...
Published on 20 Oct 2006 by Mr. J. Birch

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Makes no sense
This is possibly one of the oddest books I've read. The story - such as it is - makes no sense. You get dropped, mid conversation, into a group of people but who they are, what they're doing and why is never revealed. Are they the lost 9th legion of Rome somehow sucked into another century? Who knows?

The main story, of a relationship between two people is...
Published 2 months ago by dot dot dot


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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book like few others, 20 Oct 2006
By 
Mr. J. Birch "John Birch" (Letdchworth, Herts) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
I read this book when I was 14 - it was one of several that my English teacher recommended, not as part of the school curriculum, but because he thought they were good books (these were halcyon pre-National Curriculum days where teachers could often follow their own enthusiams, and thus build the same in others).

I cannot recall what else he recommded now, but Red Shift simply blew me away then, and continues to have an effect today - 30 years later.

My friend and I read it at the same time and discussed it endlessly. We were gripped by everything - the style, the story, the lack of a traditional narrative thread, the switch between times - and viewpoints, the meaning (if there was one).

Its not a perfect book - the Roman episodes do not work entirely well at times, and returning to it now its a bit dated - but that does not matter when you can be so gripped by the pace and drive of the book (I will not say "story" because that would imply a structure that it does not have - and it is that too that fascinates).

It changed the way I looked on writing, and the way I wrote (indeed maybe still write sometimes). The power of the short sentance, and well chosen words. The way in which the reader fills in the gaps to the extent that every reader probably reads a "different" book.

Red Shift is at its heart a teenage novel (indeed it was probably one the first books aimed at the teenage market, an age group that - and it is hard to believe this now - was incredibly poorly provided for right up to the early 80s), and perhaps its only teenagers who appreciate the structural iconoclasm because many older readers hate it. I'd urge anyone to give it a go - relax and dive in. Let it flow over you. Emerge at the other end (its not a long book), think a bit, then dive in again... and find a whole different story each time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, complex and powerful, 21 Aug 2009
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
This is a complex, ambiguous and intense read that remains enigmatic right to the very end. While ostensibly written as a children's book it is very different from Garner's Elidor, for example, which is far simpler and easier to `get' (though it is still a great book which terrified me as a child).

Red Shift consists of three narratives: Jan and Tom, the teenage lovers who are misunderstood by his parents; Macey and his band of military brothers on the run amongst enemy factions; and Thomas and Marge, caught up in what seems to be the Reformation civil wars. All three are replete with literary and historical echoes - Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Roman invasions of Britain, Vietnam (this was published in 1967), Cromwell and the religious wars of the reformation - and yet the timeframes are never delineated and the stories float in a kind of timeless space. By the end the three coalesce and cannot be unwound from each other in the final pages.

At heart each story is about love, betrayal, violence and pain. I almost dreaded the end (especially of the Jan/Tom story) and yet it is all so right and fitting when it comes. Be warned, this is a book with very little exposition and practically no scene-setting: as readers we are thrust into the narrative and have to navigate our own way through the text. There are pages of no more than pure dialogue (no `he said' `she said' here) so if you dislike this style of writing this might be one to avoid. But it would be a shame since this really is a marvellous feat of imagination and pure writing, which also forces the reader to work imaginatively hard. A great book for a teenager and one which really opens up the delights of literature.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 15 Dec 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
I too read this story in school, many more years ago now than I want to remember. I was reading simple adventure stories and came across 'Red Shift' somehow and was completely captured by the pure imagination of it. Maybe the only novelist who comes close for me now to that sense of wonder and other worldliness is Robert Holdstock in his Mythago novels. But if you can put 'Red Shift' into the hands of a teenager at just the right time...... ....you will create a reader of books for a lifetime.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars love will tear you apart, 15 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
Red Shift would be the greatest children's book ever, if it wasn't really a dark and disturbing adult book subversively circulated to the young. Short of giving your kids "American Psycho" or "The 120 Days of Sodom", I can't think of a better way of messing with their heads. I read it (after the first 4 Garners) at 13, when I was smart enough to crack the code and too dumb to spot the sex, and it freaked me out, but not as much as when I re-read it five years later. There's three stories in one, plus bits of Vietnam, King Lear and the Ballad of Tamlyn, but its all really in Tom's over-intellectual, working-class, sexually-confused head as he tries to make sense of everything moving away from him. Along with "Unknown Pleasures" and "Closer", this is Cheshire's greatest contribution to world culture. Tom's a cold
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and Compelling, 1 Sep 2013
By 
Four Violets (Hertford UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
Published in 1973, the story starts with Tom and Jan, teenagers who are keeping in touch with coded letters and infrequent but intense meetings on Crewe Station. The story then intertwines with flashes to the past, to Roman Britain and the Civil War, with events that resonate back and forth in time as Tom and Jan visit sites where there has been much killing and other couples experiencing intense fear and suffering. Tom becomes almost deranged when he makes a discovery about Jan which threatens to tip him over the edge of sanity.

Alan Garner was apparently inspired to write the story after reading of a suicidal teenage boy who sent a taped message to his girlfriend: if you care about me you will react to this. Well the girl never listened to the tape and he did commit suicide. It is unclear if Tom and Jan have a happy ending.

I am sure that in 1973 this book must have resonated powerfully with young readers. There was much less communication, no mobile phones, email, skype. Jan tells Tom how intensely she imagines him, how strongly she idealises him, and the adjustment she has to make when she sees the real him. The book perfectly sums up the difficulty of a long distance relationship as well as teenagers rejecting their parents' way of living. In addition is the interwoven, complicated, and often confusing strands of the past which bind the three stories backwards and forwards together.

Altogether it is a very clever, complex, compelling (I read it in two sittings), and really quite tragic story. After all, first love always seems so very tragic and intense. The couples from the first two stories appear to have happy endings, I was unsure about Tom and Jan.

I guessed the code word of the coded letter and the first three words, but had to google the Lewis Carroll code in order to discover how to de-code the rest.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing (warning: contains plot spoilers), 19 Oct 2011
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
I was haunted by Elidor as a boy and have enjoyed it along with other early Garners, as an adult. But Red Shift I'm not sure about. In part it's brilliant. It's certainly very daring to tackle themes which I take to include sexual jealousy, the teen fascination/fear of sex, and possibly male sexual insecurity - among many others - in a teen book (or any book, really), and at times the experimental style works. But at many points the actual events of the story are obscure and the ultra-pared-down dialogue-centred style is mannered and irritating. The novel is disturbing - both in a good way and a bad way. It delves into very deep emotional/psychological layers, but at the same time I did puzzle about the author's own attitude to sex and to the female gender.

There are three 'couples' in the novel: in modern times, Tom and Jan; in the English Civil War period Thomas and Madge; in Roman Britain Macey and the priestess. For different reasons, none of them have sex (until Tom and Jan do, disastrously, at the end). Macey is some kind of special person possessed by a berserker god and seems uninterested in the priestess sexually (which is his salvation). Thomas, it is suggested, is impotent. Tom and Jan are avoiding sex with each other. They both seem to think it would somehow pollute their relationship, but Tom perhaps is hung up about it (while Jan, it turns out, has in fact had an enjoyable and healthy sexual experience abroad outside her relationship with Tom). And all three main female characters are raped: Jan, finally, by Tom; Madge by another Thomas who was an early rival with her husband Thomas; the priestess repeatedly by Roman soldiers who keep her 'ham strung' in their camp - the fact that Macey has not joined in saves him from her eventual revenge. The only healthy sexual relationship in the book is between Jan and her lover, and that spells disaster for her central relationship with Tom. The book is very violent, and sex and violence seem conjoined.

It all certainly makes you think - but I kept wondering if there was some sort of misogyny going on here, and a mistrust of sex. Of course, Garner's very point may be about something destructive in male sexuality, but the book could almost be read as saying that a healthy sexual relationship between a man/boy and woman/girl who are in love is not possible; while Platonic love we can get away with. Plus, although we are obviously meant to deplore the raping, there is so much of it...

There was a moment when I was reading The Owl Service when I also began, I thought, to detect a certain attitude to the female sex. One of the heroes, Gwyn, keeps calling the heroine Alison, 'girl'. At times it reaches crescendoes - 'girl' at the end of almost every sentence as he speaks to her. The word draws attention of course to Alison's gender and sexuality and seems to carry a sort of strange distancing with it. Gwyn also has an oddly violent and stressful relationship with his mother! Much as I admire Alan Garner in many ways, all this does make me wonder what's afoot. I'd be interested to know what others think.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time Shift, 29 Aug 2013
By 
JB (Cambridge UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
Can we ever escape life's repeating patterns? The three sets of couples in Red Shift don't seem able to, as history repeats itself over a period of a thousand years at Mow Cop in Cheshire. Pulled by invisible forces, the men - Tom, Thomas and Macey - struggle but fail for some understanding and equilibrium.

Garner's approach here is to provide the minimum of descriptive content for the reader, but instead to immerse them in the dialogue, this sometimes resulting in a whole page or so of terse and clipped sentences. It can be disorientating to start with, but it can also bring an immediacy and involvement. As our three parallel stories develop, the intercutting between scenes becomes almost natural, until by the end the threads are woven together into one.

Written in 1973, the Vietnam War was very much in people's consciousness, and Garner draws allusions between the Romans-gone-feral and the GI's caught up in the insanity of of a viciously brutal war they couldn't win. Therefore, Logan, Face and Magoo use phraseology and terms which presumably were accurate to that time, the idea being that this would resonate with the reader and perhaps add a reality which would otherwise be difficult to capture.

In the Civil War storyline, the author centrepieces the story of the siege of Barthomley Church, a true but harrowing episode as barbarous as anything in the Vietnam War. The third strand is contemporary, but played out against the landscape of the preceding two stories and carries with it all the unresolved questions.

Essentially Red Shift is a love story, but one which Garner exploits to look in depth at some of the crucial issues at the time of writing (and of course in 1973 the anti-war movement and the rise of feminism were highly significant topics). For instance, he seems to question the idea of manhood and masculinity; what are the bounds, and what happens when they are crossed? What then is the role of the wife/mother? Some indication of the author's viewpoint here might be deduced from a line of graffiti which partly inspired the book, and which I've used in the title of this review. The statement might be seen as a girl's disillusioned reply to a (former) lover's attempt at reconciliation.

Everyone will surely take away something different in what is a fascinating and enigmatic book of many related levels.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A many-layered book, 27 Oct 2003
By 
Richard Seddon (Stockport, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
I have read this book several times in my life. The first time I read it (as a teeenager) it freaked me out. Roman soldiers talking like modern squaddies! The tragedy (and the inevitability) of the episode in the church! I cannot say it is an "easy" book. It hurts.
But it was much later, when I had a teenage daughter of my own, that I re-read it and really understood what was going on (what another reviewer described as "recognising the sex"). Of course, my daughter had already realised. They say girls mature earlier than boys...
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2.0 out of 5 stars Makes no sense, 6 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Red Shift (Kindle Edition)
This is possibly one of the oddest books I've read. The story - such as it is - makes no sense. You get dropped, mid conversation, into a group of people but who they are, what they're doing and why is never revealed. Are they the lost 9th legion of Rome somehow sucked into another century? Who knows?

The main story, of a relationship between two people is also inexplicable. Lots of feelings but no resolution.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vision of doom, 16 Feb 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Red Shift (Paperback)
I love Alan Garner's books, for many reasons. Perhaps the most prevalent here is his concept of the writing a novel - it's done once by the author, and then once again by every reader. This is a 'spinner' of a book, apocalyptic and scary. I found the sense of implacable doom in here quite overpowering. What a read. BTW - there's an unofficial Alan Garner web site out there which has an attempt at cracking the code. Try a search for 'Alan garner' in the major search engines.
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