on 27 February 2014
I like a well written book with a good story. This is everything - romance, philosophy, tutorial on ceramics and music, ghost story, tragedy, in short one of my favourite books I have ever read - I am a book worm, always have been, and must have got through entire libraries of authors' work. Richard Adams has written in so many genres, he is a writer I admire greatly.
on 8 September 2014
A stunning story, one that has haunted me for many years, and I have re-read it several times. Entirely different in style from any of the author's other work (or that of any other writer for that matter), the denouement, particularly, is shattering; the supernatural element sits convincingly on the old-fashioned landscape and rarefied world of ceramic figurines. The only reason I haven't given it 5 stars is that the narrator is slightly irritating in his not-quite-believable extreme naivete.
One of the American reviews tells me that the first paperback edition of this book described it as 'a haunting and erotic story of the supernatural'. 'Haunting' I'll certainly go along with: 'erotic' and 'supernatural'? -- not really. This is a book about a romance and a marriage, brief in duration and with a gut-wrenching denouement. There's a lot about sex and it is outstandingly good, honest and original. I'd better explain 'original' I suppose -- nothing Alan and Karin do together is the slightest bit original I am pleased to say. The originality is in the story of a young man who grows up thinking himself unattractive to women and who has no sexual experience before finding himself overwhelmingly desirable to a woman of dumbfounding beauty. And this is 'no casual mistress but a wife', intelligent, loving and supportive. It all takes a bit of adaptation on his part. There is no pre-marital sex and he is impotent through nervousness or shyness during their honeymoon. Karin's sympathy and understanding conquers the problem and his descriptions of their love-making are notable for innocent enthusiasm with no trace of prurience. What I find original is that all this is readable without boredom or disgust. It is a vital element in the story, but this is still no erotic tale.
I can't read it as a tale of the supernatural either. My idea of the supernatural is Poe, Lovecraft, M R James, Clark Ashton Smith and that lot. Alan has something like psychic insights, triggered in the presence of strong femininity. This to me is a fascinating issue, the sort of thing that should warn any rationalist not to be too know-all. There seem to be more things, even on earth, than are dreamed of in a purely rational philosophy. Arthur C Clarke, commenting in retrospect on Childhood's End, says that while his interest in the paranormal had declined not all the unexplained phenomena -- poltergeists, premonitions etc -- can be brushed aside or rationalised away. Would you call this a story of the supernatural? I wouldn't.
It's the story of a relationship, perhaps a love story but perhaps that is going too far. What it definitely is is a Euripidean tragedy. Medea escaped unscathed for Karin's crime but Karin is struck down for it by the deity she has offended in a very Euripidean way. I cannot now remember where the two lines of Greek tragedy quoted at the start come from, but surely it must be the Medea. What they mean is
'I cannot explain what happened to her that she did this'.
'But for those who understand it all goes without blame'.
No it does not, neither to my ideas nor in the story itself.
on 28 February 2011
I first read this story when I was about 16, having grown up reading Richard Adams. Its a most beautiful love story, which creates a wonderfully dark tension. Another reviewer likened it to 'The Drowning People' but I think the writing is so much better than that, and the atmosphere it creates so much more vivid.
on 21 June 2014
Another book club recommendation. I wasn't sure what to expect from Richard Adams having only ever read Watership Down by the same author. The main character is quite a lonely man, knowledgeable, but it seems his knowledge is restricted to just ceramics. When he travels and meets an unusual, keen woman he is overwhelmed and is quick to include her totally in his life. I am not certain this would have happened then, due to etiquette and his own insular and cautious lifestyle. It is no wonder she is not exactly who she says she is. The dark side is merely hinted at, which is the clever part of the book!
on 18 June 2000
I first read this book 15 years or so ago, as a teenager, and it has stayed with me as one of the most memorable books I have ever read. It is a beautifully written romance. Starting out as boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl. The story builds to a frightening ending, sort of 'Rebecca' meets 'The Drowning People'. The key to this book is not the story line, although there is nothing wrong with it, but the skillful writing by Adams, in building the tension and air of mystery. This book could have so easily been corny, but it is truly brilliant. Read it, you won't be able to put it down!
on 18 September 2000
This book has slipped far, far into obscurity. I read it many years ago and was so impressed that I have endeavoured to read it every year since. It sounds like an odd thing to do but the spell that the novel weaves for itself is so beautifully complex and sinister that - just give it a chance - you'll find it hard to break out of. The Prologue, just a page and a half about loss and grief, is a gripper. The ending is devastating. A little belter.
on 21 September 2003
An excellent book by the author of Watership Down. The elements described by other reviewers - 'haunting, erotic, supernatural' - are all there, though it would be a difficult task to place this novel in such genres as horror, romance or the supernatural. It is a unique book with lyrical and poetic qualities, difficult to pidgeon-hole into a category. It is not horror a la S. King, and if erotic means graphic or pornographic to you, then no, it is not. But the erotic element is there, worked and woven in with honesty, taste and naturalness - and is an important key to the story. The supernatural element is likewise an important thread, and is not obvious at first. However, the reader becomes aware of it as the subtle handling of it in the plot becomes an important key.
As far as mythology and comparisons are concerned, this is by no means 'Medea Revisited' as suggested by another reviewer. Medea is about jealousy and heineous revenge. Though one of the 'sins' commited by Medea is also Karin's, I suggest a closer connection to Kali (which is very briefly and cleverly worked into a conversation within the book), if one must make mythological comparisons. In any case, yes...this is a tale worthy of Euripidean dimensions but it has nothing to do with jealousy, intrigue and revenge.
Karin is a gossamer, enchanting woman of deep, consumming emotions with, as the story unfolds, a dark secret. Her 'other-worldly' nature makes one suspect she is indeed an enchanted creature-turned-human whose very existence is for the spellbound love she and Alan share. Though make no mistake; this is no soggy love story.
Is she 'other-worldly' or a tragic human creature not-meant-for-this-world? Read this intriguing tale with a dark secret. It will haunt you long after the covers of the book are closed.
on 8 June 2012
I found this a really gripping story. It was clear from the outset that the love story of Alan & Karin would not turn out happily, but what nasty twists and turns could we expect?
This author has the gift of directly involving his readers in the story. He writes beautifully and this is my favourite of his books, having first read it thirty years ago. Perhaps there is more sex than is necessary to convey the couple's physical and emotional attraction, but the gathering darkness and gloom threatening their relationship cannot fail to concern every reader.
How I found myself wishing for a happy ending- and for a moment I thought we would have it!
An outstanding book which does not deserve to be out-of-print in paperback.
on 12 September 2013
This is one of the strangest books I've ever read. There seem to be three distinct layers, which never quite come together. First, a psychologically subtle study of passionate love between a somewhat repressed (but very likeable) Englishman and the 'woman of his dreams'. But soon, we're off into 'White Goddess' country: the dangerous but utterly seductive 'eternal female'. And lastly, an ending worthy of M R James at his most gruesome. I'm a great fan of Tolstoy, and Robert Graves, and M R James too - but I'm not sure they can be brought together within one shortish novel. Fascinating and memorable all the same, though.