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Red Shift Paperback – 7 Jun 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Paperback, 7 Jun 1999
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren'sBooks; New edition edition (7 Jun. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006742955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006742951
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 1.3 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,034,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


“A magnificently multilayered novel… and a superbly exciting piece of literature.”
The Times

“…A work of poetic imagination that will keep any adult mind at full stretch.”
Daily Mail

“A bitter, complex, brilliant book.”
Ursula Le Guin

From the Back Cover

Under Orion's stars, bluesilver visions torment Macey, Thomas and Tom as they struggle with age-old forces. Distanced from each other in time and isolated from those they live among, they are yet inextricably bound together by the sacred power of the moon's axe, each seeking his own refuge at Mow Cop.

Can those they love so intensely keep them clinging to reality? Or is the future eternally destined to reflect the past?

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A short novel, exasperating and daring in equal measure. Like 'Thursbitch' - the only other Garner I've read (Hugh Hefner was my favourite writer as a teen) - Red Shift, set near Crewe, travels back and forth in time; in this case from the Roman occupation of Britain to the 1970s, weaving parallels and evoking a sense of place that leaks mysteriously through the ages. All three featured sets of characters battle with threatening predicaments: sex, myth, slaughter and an unnamed mystical, head-spinning, silver-blue force drive the story. An axe head provides the linking motif. Though many people seem to have read it in their youth, Red Shift has none of the signifiers of a teen/YA novel, and pretty much defies categorisation: it's a challenging read no matter how many miles you have on the clock.
Garner slashes description to the bone and neglects the signposts other novelists use to help the reader with narrative and location. It's all pretty clear if you pay attention; you just need to relax and go with the flow a little (you can understand why Garner is quoted as preferring the less 'trained' response of younger readers to his books: though you may also think he's ignoring at least some of a novelist's duties, and justifying his own pecadilloes). The Beckett-influenced dialogue is fractured and idiosyncratic: Magoo, Face, Logan and Mosey, the Roman soldiers trying to stay alive amidst the savage local tribes, occasionally talk more like characters in a Tarantino movie ('Go, baby!'); as in Thursbitch, it's the 'clever' modern-day couple - in this case, Tom and Jan, an Oxbridge-bound student and a young nurse recently moved to London - where this technique becomes mannered; that they are earnest and highly self-conscious exacerbates the problem.
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By Four Violets TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Sept. 2013
Format: 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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By A Customer on 15 Oct. 2000
Format: 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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Format: 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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