This is a novel about how the events of 1066 affected one man living in the fen-lands of England, his reaction to these events and his own personal fight for England. The overwhelming characteristic of this novel is the style of language the author, Paul Kingsnorth, has used. This language in turn bemused, exhausted and enriched me. The main character is not Hereward the Wake but Buccmaster of Holland (Lincolnshire). He is a flawed man, not a hero. This is an interesting book and I would recommend it, but only if the reader can handle the language.
EXAMPLE: The following is taken from the near the start of the novel on page 9: "a great blaec fugol it was not of these lands it flown slow ofer the ham one daeg at the time of first ploughan. its necc was long its eages afyr and on the end of its fethra was a mans fingors all this I seen clere this was a fugol of doefuls. in stillness it cum and slow so none may miss it or what it had for us. This was eosturmonth in the year when all was broc" I presume that this means that a comet was seen in the sky. A great black bird (fugol) flew slowly over the village one day in the early morning at the time of the first ploughing. Its neck was long and its eyes afire and on the end of its feathers were a man's fingers. I saw all this clearly and this was the devil's bird. It came slowly so no one would miss it. This was in the Easter month (April).
This is not an exceptional quote; this is the style and language of the whole book. At first I found it incomprehensible. I missed much of the story because I was concentrating on the language. It did seem to be more understandable as I continued reading, but this was because I got used to the language, not because the language got any easier.
EXAMPLE: The following is taken from near the end of the novel on page 324: "well he is frenc and this is a frenc biscop and he has been gifen the abbodrice of petersburh as his. this was not one month ago and all of the fenns is specan of it for when hereweard hierde that the abbodrice was to go to a frenc biscop he gan in and he threw out all the muncs and toc all the gold and all things from the abbodrice to say to the frenc that this place can nefer be theirs". I think this means that a French bishop (biscop is pronounced bishop) had been given the monastery of Peterborough a month ago and everyone in the Fens was talking about it. When Hereward heard about it he went there and threw out all the monks and took all the gold and other things from the monastery, saying that this place would never be theirs.
The language and the story are both down-to-earth, but I was surprised to find many F-words and some C-words, especially as these would have been unknown words in Old English. However, this is not Old English but a special language designed to give the atmosphere of the time.
EXAMPLE: The following is taken from page 141. It describes an encounter between a child and his new Norman master. "frenc fuccer calls the cilde thu cwelled my father and I will cwell thu and all the hores thu calls thy folc and the bastard thu calls thy cyng. Go home frenc c-word or thu will die. At this the cilde then tacs dawn his breces and teorns his bare arse at the thegn". I would render this into modern English as: French f-worder, calls the child. You killed my father and I will kill you and all the whores you call your people and the bastard you call your king. Go home, French c-word, or you will die. At this the child takes down his breaches and turns his bare arse at the lord.
It helps in understanding this language to whisper it as you read rather than staying silent in the modern fashion. In fact, this book may be better as an audio book. This is all a long way from Charles Kingsley's best-selling Victorian novel Hereward the Wake with its easy English and its romantic re-writing of history.
THIS NOVEL is 344 pages long. There are no chapters but the text is divided into three sections named 1066, 1067 and 1068. The novel is followed by "A partial glossary" (4 pages), "A note on language" (4 pages), "A note on history" (4 pages), "Sources" (4 pages), "Subscribers" (6 pages) and "A note about the typeface" (1 page). I suggest reading the glossary and then the note on language before reading the novel itself.
on 26 October 2014
The Wake tells the story of Buccmaster of Holland, a man living in a Lincolnshire village at the time of the Norman invasion. The coming of the Normans is catastrophic for Buccmaster, as for so many others. With his family and his house gone, he decides to lead a group of men who've also lost everything and fight the invaders.
Out of all the books on the Man Booker longlist, The Wake is probably the most unlikely one. Not only was it crowd-funded, it's written in what the author describes as a "shadow tongue", a language inspired in Old English, but updated in such a way as to actually make it understandable to modern readers. Basically, there are no words of Latin origin (since the English tongue hadn't yet began to mix with the French) and no letters that weren't used at the time (no k or v or a couple of others I now can't remember), and the spelling, punctuation and sentence structure are very much not modern. The Author's Note gives us a couple of pronunciation rules (e.g. "sc" is pronounced "sh", so "biscop" should be read as "bishop") and there is a short glossary for words that the reader would not be able to guess or deduce (e.g. "fugol" means "bird"), but that's all we get before we are on our way. By the way, these items are both at the end of the Kindle version, which seems counterproductive; you'd definitely want to read them first (I did).
Anyway, I was intrigued when I first read about the book, but I was also quite a bit wary. Was this really necessary, or was Kingsnorth just being willfully difficult and pretentious? Did I really want to struggle through the sort of thing you see if you click on "see inside" here on amazon? I thought I'd wait and see, and only read it if it got on the shortlist.
Fortunately, I then listened to one of my regular bookish podcasts, Adventures With Words. What they do every year is read the kindle samples of all the books on the longlist and talk about their first impressions, and whether they would want to continue reading based on that. One of the podcasters was really enthusiastic about The Wake. She said that she'd quickly got into the rhythm of the writing and that she'd enjoyed what she'd read of the story. What she said tempted me, and I decided to pick it up next.
Well, I agree completely. This is one extraordinary book, and one of the reasons is, yes, the language. It's not some sort of gimmick; it's absolutely necessary to put you inside Buccmaster's mind and looking out of his eyes and to create the world he inhabits. He's not a modern character plonked down in the 11th century, and the language makes this obvious. I honestly don't think Kingsnorth could have achieved anything even close to the same effect without it. It's little things like, for instance, the way the word "women" is "wifmen", highlighting how in Buccmaster's worldview, a woman is a wife, and that's that.
Is it worth the effort on the part of the reader? To me, definitely. And really, although reading The Wake does require more concentration than reading other books, it's not as hard as a quick look at the text would suggest. I started out sounding things out in my head, virtually reading the text out loud. 'Deofyl'? Ahh, devil. And 'triewe' must be 'true'. And what was 'cenep' again? *Checks the glossary* Ah, 'moustache'. That would have been exhausting, if I'd had to keep it up for an entire book, but I really didn't. After a surprisingly short while I had learnt the language, and other than sporadic checks of the glossary when a new term came up, I was just reading, almost as fast as usual. It's an effort, but not a superhuman one, by any means.
I've concentrated on the language and the setting so far, but the book is much more than a recreation of a particular time. There's a story, but mainly, this is a character study. Buccmaster feels completely real, and he's one fascinating character. He's very alien in some ways, but completely believable and understandable and recognisably human. He's basically a self-important braggart who thinks he's better than anyone else. Partly it's that before the Normans came he was "a socman of three oxgangs" (i.e. a free tenant farmer, owning three of that measure of land), as he constantly reminds us and everyone around him, and therefore superior to his companions, who didn't have that independence. Partly it's that he is devoted to the old ways and the old religions, and therefore has nothing but contempt for the idiots who pay any heed to the Christian priests. Here's Buccmaster talking about his grandfather:
"he was eald he was ealder than any man in the fenns and there was those saed this was due to his wicce craft for he was not with the crist and that he wolde go on his death to hel. this is the scit what folcs specs if they is left to them selfs and it is why they sceolde be loccd ofer by greater men."
"greater men", of course, being Buccmaster himself.
And that short sentence I think gives you some indication of why, even though he's a terrible human being, Buccmaster is such a wonderful character and I was willing to make the effort to read his story. He's interesting and entertainingly irreverent. He effs and blinds all over the place... "fuccan" this, "fuccan" that, and his utter disdain for everyone else is jaw-dropping, and yet believable. He's a real pill and a right bastard, and he really comes alive during the book.
And I think, because he's the kind of person he is, the sheer hugeness and horror of what has happened to the country really emerges. He's no great leader of men, no paragon, and you get the feeling there must have been many, many like him around the country: people who have had the fabric of their lives ripped apart. People who had a measure of freedom have become unfree, completely beholden to people who just suddenly showed up and care nothing for anything other than what they can extract from them. I really felt the outrage.
And for all that this is a story about people in quite desperate circumstances and where really bad things happen, and are not taken lightly, it's fuccan hilarious. It's all in the details, like Buccmaster and his companions' outrage when they see that the French invaders are bald as eggs (i.e. they don't have huge bushy beards, like them).
I loved it. This is why I keep making the effort to try stuff on the Man Booker lists. There's no way I would even have heard of this book otherwise.
MY GRADE: An A.
on 29 August 2014
This is the story of a small community in the Fens after the shock of 1066, and what some individuals do to survive. A man called Buccmaster who has lost everything as a result of the Norman conquest hides in the woods, gathers some followers, and we stay with them for the next two years through their meanderings on the fringes of society.
What makes it a bit tricky to read and tough to get into at first is the made-up version of Old English in which the book is written (made up so that it can be read by modern readers at all). There's a glossary, and it helps to read the first few pages out loud, then read loud in your head, as it were, until you get the hang of it. It transports the reader into a different time and place, a different mindset and a way of storytelling that is quite different from modern novels. It really works.
Nature, religion, myth and legend, historical fact, superstition and a larger than life central character all come together to make a gripping story.
What a book, what an experience! This is unlike anything I've ever read. The language creates itself in your brain as you read it, it unfolds and your understanding of it becomes organic. Quite what this did to the language part of my brain I can't say - i feel like I've learned a new tongue. I love this completely. This is such a fresh experience.
Yes, this book might seem intimidating, and it took me about half an hour to read the first five pages, but your brain eventually wraps itself around it and becomes much easier. If you aren't keen on that type of reading experience that this book is not for you - if the idea of re-learning to read does not thrill you a little bit, then I couldn't recommend this. If you do, then I could. I read large sections of it out loud to myself, and doing so was a strangely thrilling, exciting experience (sad, I know). To an extent, this novel is an academic exercise - whether it stands on its own in terms of the narrative I'm not sure, but I don't really care because the actual narrative and story isn't the point; though, I do think that the story itself is pretty powerful, but largely because it was told in this style. Its clever, frightening, atmospheric, dark, sad.
This is far too much of a left field choice to win the booker, but it may get to the shortlist. I would not be unhappy if it did win, though. Like giving your brain a cold shower. Wonderful.
on 17 July 2015
One of the most powerful fiction books I have read in a long time. Its turns of phrase and the ideas they convey have stayed with me and shaking them off is difficult. I was at first amazed and then enthralled by ‘The Wake.’
It is a post apocalypse novel, very much in the mode of ‘Ridley Walker’. However the Apocalypse happened in 1066. The narrator, Buccmaster of Holland, once ‘a socman with three ox gangs, a great man in his ham with a seat on the wapentac’ (as he never tires telling us) is reduced by the Norman Conquest to a degraded, almost animalistic existence, leading a band of ‘grene men’, outlaws in the woods and fens determined to resist the invader.
The tone is bleak and unrelenting. Very much in the idiom of Cormac McCarthy, or Charles Frazier’s ‘Cold Mountain’. The reader cringes from the atrocities and the hopelessness is grinding. We know from the start that there is no chance that Buccmaster and his ‘wereod of grene men, hiddan in the holts and fenns of angland’ will ever turn back the Norman Conquest.
So where in this is the joy, even the fun, of reading ‘the Wake’? Basically in the compelling mode of ‘anlisc’ thought Kingsnorth evokes. He does this primarily by writing the book in ‘Anglo-Saxon’. This is not exactly the Anglo-Saxon of 1066 (that really would be a foreign language), but a version of English stripped of Norman and Danish vocabulary, with spelling which obeys the conventions of 1066 English not those imposed by the Normans. The grammar gives an illusion of a more primitive Germanic language. Hardly any modern punctuation is used. The effect is that the book must be read with attention, rolling each word around on your tongue. This in turn lures the reader into buccmaster’s world and his limited worldview. Immersion in this anlisc world the language evokes throws into sharp relief the foreign, alien ,‘ingenga’ as buccmaster puts it, words and the concepts they embody.
The one star reviews without exception say ‘This book is written in gibberish. I couldn’t be bothered with it. You need a glossary at the back for every word. I gave up after 3 pages.’ Fair enough. ‘The Wake’ is not written in standard English. If you don’t want to make the effort to read something not in modern English, please don’t read this book. When the reviewers go beyond their personal dislike to make wider claims, that the use of anlisc is stupid, pretentious, pointless because it isn’t exactly replicating Anglo-Saxon, they are greatly mistaken. The language shows the world that has been lost. Anlisc forced into a straight jacket of spelling conventions which make it illogical and, objectively, far more difficult to read. Words for concepts the Normans had no time for are discarded, replaced with others fixing the new social hierarchy. like split between the meat the Norman nobles eat and the live farm animals their English thralls tend. Buccmaster’s thoughts are limited by his language, there are some thoughts, of accommodation and compromise, that he simply cannot have, and we, sucked into his limitations come to share the same worldview.
The knee-jerk ‘it’s gibberish’ reaction obscures critical points which might more usefully be made. Buccmaster as a pretty unpleasant character, an antagonistic curmudgeon whose instinct is to do nothing and sit around cursing anyone who tries to do anything. Although some of our judgements of his character are refined and explained as the narrative continues (he is an inarticulate anlisc man from northern angland and he often prefers not to spaec about things or talk through abstractions) none the less he is the kind of man who only beats his wife when she really needs it, kills innocent people and, when as is said and done, achieves nothing positive. ‘better to curse the deorcness than light a fuccan candal’ would be his motto. He reminded me a lot of the irascible convert in ‘Four Lions’, a film about frustrated violent resistance to an alien society which ‘The Wake’ resembles in many ways. Buccmaster is a terrorist leader and his nihilistic worldview radicalises and enthrals his impressionable followers. It’s a theme which certainly brings applicability and a timeliness to a narrative of futile resistance to an nine-hundred years gone apocalypse.
I kept wondering why ‘The Wake’ was only ‘longlisted’ for the Booker Prize, not shortlisted or winning. It is certainly a much more important contribution to English literature than most of what gets short-listed. I can well imagine it being an A level set text in future years.
It subverts the expectation in a historical novel that its characters will witness of influence key events. As with the booker prize winning novels of Hilary Mantell. The fact that (*spoiler*) Buccmaster, effectively does not may leave readers wondering what the point of plough through all this Old English was. A very similar book which did win the Booker Prize in 2001 is Peter Carey’s ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’. Like ‘The Wake’, it features a small band of outlaws wandering through the wilderness, with descriptions of the traumatic and culturally formative events of the narrator’s childhood. It too s written in an attempt to recreate the narrator’s historical vocabulary and idiosyncratic punctuation. But it is the exception that proves the rule. Its narrator is practically the only Australian Historical figure anyone has ever heard of, Ned Kelly
There are plenty of historical novels about ‘the old ways of Britain’ resisting the oppressive monolithic religion of the crist, but generally these are set in ‘Celtic Times’, with druids and Boadicea like characters linked to the Land. Celtic Spirituality is seen as more feminine, more eco, more counter culture than the religion and society of the Anglo-Saxons. If writers want something Teutonic, they generally find the fully-fledged Viking mythology of the Prose Edda more satisfying.
The Booker Prize is very open to the concepts of once proud cultures struggling against or accommodating with the cultural hegemony of the dominant empire, and what that means to an individual’s identity. As long as you were born on the eve of partition in India or came over to late forties England on the Windrush. To bring such preoccupations to native English men, especially when combined with Wagnerian Anglo-Saxon paganism, may raise unwelcome comparisons with Ukip and Britain First.
And it is specifically a book about English *men*. It is unrelentingly masculine. Buccmaster lives in the man’s world of my Yorkshire grandfather not the metroseuxal world I imagine the Booker Judges do. Women have a different place, a completely separate sphere. . That is certainly what the Anglo-Saxon world was like, but may be very uncomfortable for modern readers. Buccmaster’s lack of empathy with women leads to mistakes, some catastrophic. One of the more amusing aspects of the Norman apocalypse is that the grene men don’t know how to cook. Their wifmen always did that.
I have read a lot of 1066 novelizations. This covers, unsurprisingly, a lot of the same ground as the execrable ‘Conquest’ by Stewart Binns and occupies a similar ‘Lost Cause’ mindset to ‘The Last English King’ by Julian Rathbone. It is the use of language and the limited comfort zone of hus and ham and holt which the language embodies which sets ‘The Wake’ apart and above them. The reader is drawn into a way of thinking which is utterly compelling and difficult to shake off. Anyone who wants to understand England as it now is or experience Angland as it once was should read this book.
on 4 September 2014
I bought this a few weeks ago, before any discounts. I am still working my way through it (which is why I have given 4 stars) as, mentioned by many reviewers, the language is difficult. But once I "got" the rhythm of buccmaster's speech it became easier. The book brings home the terrible fate of so many English people over a thousand years ago. When I was learning history at school the Norman invasion was glossed over and made into a good thing and it was a long time before I found out how cruel and bloodthirsty it really was. This is a haunting tale, well told and when I read it I become thoroughly immersed. It is a strong, original book and I wish Paul Kingsnorth well in the Man Booker competition.
on 18 February 2015
It's a shame so much has been made of the invented Saxon dialect in this novel - firstly because, after the first few chapters, you get entirely used to it and secondly, because it will stop a lot of people reading and appreciating the book, which has so many other aspects worthy of attention. The central character is a brilliant study and strangely recognisable. At a time when we're baffled by the radicalisation of angry young men who graduate to brutal extremist causes, Kingsnorth shows us how a self-obsessed psychopath with a seemingly mythical narrative can gather around him sincere would-be warriors and commit them to ultimately pointless acts of defiance and gruesome violence.
The prose is both strange and utterly engaging. Despite much of the book being spent wandering aimlessly around dark forests, there is a constant sense of tension, threat and progression towards some final endgame. The historical setting is rich and atmospheric and the poetic dialogues between Buccmaster and Weland go some way towards evoking the language and rhythms of Anglo-Saxon texts. They are also an effective vehicle for exploring the inner dialogue of a sick mind.
The ending is especially tense. Will there be a moment of final redemption and if so, for whom? Will we get to see the awful threatened act of Viking retribution? Will Buccmaster prove in the end a flawed hero or a delusional coward? Suffice to say, Kingsnorth doesn't disappoint in crafting the final moments both of the story and of the characters.
Really loved this book. The language forces you to read it slowly, which just extends the pleasure and allows you to sink both into the ancient world depicted and the fascinating psyche of a broken mind. Something of a Marmite novel, I guess, but if it's your thing, you're in for a treat.
BTW - I really think the author should publish an alternative version of the book in modern English, so that those who can't wear the language can still experience the story and its characters.
on 5 November 2014
If there is any justice then Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake will win this year’s Man Booker Prize.
The novel follows a small band of guerrilla fighters struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1066 and is told from the perspective of Buccmaster Holland, a free man of the Lincolnshire fens.
I felt I had to write this review due to the amount of negative criticism in other reviews of the ‘shadow tongue’ in which the novel is written. Buccmaster tells his tale in a language that has never existed, a mixture of Old English and modern English. I am of average intellect and am not very good at puzzles of any sort –if I can read and understand this ‘shadow tongue’ then anyone can. It is true that at first sight the sheer strangeness of the language appears daunting but within a few pages it becomes impossible to conceive of the novel being written in any other way. It helps at times to read passages aloud and I would recommend reading the postscript on language first. Kingsnorth’s bold decision to write in this manner immerses us completely in Buccmaster’s reality and makes the England of 1000 years ago come alive in all its stark beauty and mystery but crucially it does not distance us from this world. One senses that these people are just that- living, breathing, terrified, confused human beings, not so different from us. Each bird call, each sunrise is felt, the landscape lives once more. In a novel in which the characters find they have been robbed of everything – homes, families, culture – Kingsnorth refuses to take their language from them too.
Buccmaster is our guide through this blackened world and he is a superb creation; intensely deluded, sociopathic, snobbish, and paranoid, given to foulmouthed rants and dreams of grandeur, he is a man of the old gods, wracked by visions. The narrative is superbly paced and grips until the last page. One is left in wonder. I guarantee Buccmaster’s voice will haunt your dreams. At this point I’m running out of superlatives.
As Paul Kingsnorth points out in his afterword, the events of 1066 are still relevant, maybe never more so than today; we too find ourselves struggling with potentially culture ending disasters in the form of climate change and the depredations of the wealthiest elites.
A final note – in this age of the ‘digitial book’ I give a firm thumbs up to Unbound for not only publishing The Wake but for giving it such a striking cover; I had not heard of the novel and my eye was caught by the somewhat unsettling image of the grene man.
This is an extraordinary novel, one which will live in my bones for a very long time.
The Old English-style language in which it is written is, of course, the first thing you notice. Initially you suspect that this "shadow tongue" may be a piece of trompe-l'œil, clever, eye-catching, but obscuring a lack of real depth to the story. Gradually though, as events spiral out from the fenland home of its protagonist buccmaster of holland, the tale gets its claws into you, the characters become terrifyingly real, and the suspense builds towards an inevitable tragic ending of an England ruled by the French.
The language makes reading the book relatively hard work - more difficult than books like Riddley Walker or Vernon God Little simply because some of the words are not "soundalikes", so you will need to refer frequently to the glossary to decipher terms like fugol (bird), cenep (moustache), whit (animal) and wyrd (herb). But gradually these terms too become familiar, and you find yourself increasingly inhabiting both the landscape and the mindscape of the "angland" of 1000 years ago.
From the many one-star reviews on here it is clear that people are struggling with the language and giving up. While that's understandable, I really don't think it's any reason to rate the book so lowly. Certainly it is a book that requires effort, but stick with it and it will more than reward the effort that you put into it.
To begin with the feature most likely to deter the reader: this novel is written in a form of simplified Old English and yes, it takes a few pages to get into, but you get used to it (it is soon clear, for instance, that "sc" is our "sh", so that scip is ship). It's a bit of a wasted opportunity, in that he mostly doesn't use the tension between this dialect and our own to create a shimmering layer of puns and allusions, as Russell Hoban did in Riddley Walker. But if you can read Riddley Walker, you can read this.
Ignore the title, the back-cover blurb and the quotes from reviewers, at least two of whom must have been reading with their eyes shut. They could have you thinking this is a book "about", as opposed to merely set in, the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, and that it's a Kingsleyesque tale of Noble Saxons and Nasty Normans. Thanks be, it is far more complicated, mainly because it is in fact the tale of our Saxon protagonist-narrator Buccmaster, who is far nastier than any Norman on the premises.
I must tread carefully to avoid spoilers here, because Buccmaster is not only an unreliable narrator but an unaware one. He has buried parts of his past deep in his mind, and re-invented others, so that the self-image he projects and believes in is nothing like his real personality, which emerges gradually. If you happen to have read Maria McCann's fine English Civil War novel, As Meat Loves Salt, you will recall her protagonist-narrator Jacob Cullen; Buccmaster is not unlike him.
His political credo, while intimately connected with his personal hang-ups, is less complicated. He is an extreme individualist, a libertarian who resents interference in his affairs by any king or civic authority; had he lived in our own time he would certainly have agreed with Thatcher that there was no such thing as society, only individuals and families. He may hate William, but he had no more time for Harold Godwinson; to this Lincolnshire fenman, "Harold of Wessex" was nearly as much of a foreigner as William of Normandy. He refuses Harold's call to arms, on the ground that he would fight only to protect his own house and family. In fact he can't accept any authority whatever, and the buried reason for that is much as you would expect. He also lives in the past, almost literally; he hankers for the return of a set of gods who by then had been distant memories in Saxon England for some centuries, and again this is connected with his damaged family relationships.
A couple of flaws to note: the pace, generally excellent, flags midway, admittedly when the characters are at a stand, wondering what to do next, but novelists can convey that without actually boring the reader. And there is a totally irrelevant minor character, Aelfgifu, whose thread is heart-sinkingly predictable, in no way adds to our knowledge of the protagonist and I suspect was included for all the wrong reasons.
Kingsnorth has written the story of a deeply troubled man, played out against the background of the Conquest. This is why his following historical note baffles me. It stresses the background: the Norman atrocities, the heroic resistance, the way the invasion changed society for centuries (and, by implication, entirely for the worse; at least he mentions no benefits). But why, then, has he chosen as his Saxon protagonist a man not just dislikeable and damaged but more of a danger to anyone in his vicinity than even the invaders? Duke William was certainly a bastard, in every sense of the word, but at least he was a sane bastard. By the end of this novel, one is inclining to the view that anyone who is Buccmaster's enemy must have something to be said for them. Also, since we know his word cannot be trusted, we may wonder how much to believe about the evil the Normans have done. Nor was his condition caused by the invasion; he was destroying his own life long before the fleet hove in sight. A bad man can fight for a good cause, but novelists don't usually choose him as the cause's spokesman. One would think the author was perhaps trying to convey that there is no wrong and right side in war, but that is not what the historical note implies.
The author's intention is thus a puzzle, but this has no bearing on the novel's artistic and narrative merits. It is in fact a gripping tale; its narration is fascinating and skilfully handled, and its physical background vividly brought alive. In this extract Buccmaster recalls being on a mere in the fens with his grandfather:
"under the boat under the water and not so deop was the stocc of a great blaec treow torn to its root lic a tooth in the mouth of an eald wif. a great treow it was wid and blaec as the fyrs aesc blaec as the deorcness beyond the hall on a niht when the mona sleeps and as i was locan I seen another and another and I colde see that under this mere was a great holt a great eald holt of treows bigger than any I had seen efer…."
It can also be very moving, as any account of a way of life coming to an end can be. Even when we know what kind of man Buccmaster is, his memory of the last happy day in his life, in a village celebrating May, cannot help but strike a chord:
"oh I can sae these words and try to tell what it was lic there but naht can gif to thu what was in my heorte as I seen all of this cuman in to place […] oh it was the last daeg of the world."