Here John Turner was cast away in a heavy snow storm in the night in or about the year 1755.
The print of a woman’s shoe was found by his side in the snow where he lay dead.
This enigmatic memorial stone, high on the bank of a prehistoric Pennine track in Cheshire, is a mystery that lives on in the hill farms today.
John Turner was a packman. With his train of horses he carried salt and silk, travelling distances incomprehensible to his ancient community. In this visionary tale, John brings ideas as well as gifts, which have come, from market town to market town, from places as distant as the campfires of the Silk Road. John Turner’s death in the eighteenth century leaves an emotional charge which, in the twenty-first century, Ian and Sal find affects their relationship, challenging the perceptions they have of themselves and of each other. Thursbitch is rooted in a verifiable place. It is an evocation of the lives and the language of all people who are called to the valley of Thursbitch.
Garner is one of the few authors that I struggle with, after enjoying the magical The Wierdstone of Brasingamen and then being less convinced by some of his other books – Elidor, The Owl Service and Red Shift – I once again found myself hooked by the ancient ways of the author’s evocative scene setting.
This book feels like a culmination of ideas of the three above books that didn’t quite convince me when I initially read them. With two separate stories, one a character exploration and the other a glorious look into the past with its ancient traditions, with an opening that really sets the scene for the delights to come.
The echoing of time both backwards and forwards is an appropriate plot device, especially as we are fast losing our connection with the land in modern times. Garner creates an atmosphere that lingers with the reader and is infused with the soil and its seemingly mythical properties. He deals with loss and the changes to what is an insular setting, the titular valley of Thursbitch.
The book is minimal in terms of superfluous detail so as a result is tightly written but less is definitely more in this case. The lack of plot though is a good thing as it is about the characters and what they do and believe, that is the true focus; its magic, haunting, pagan and the beauty of the countryside. The book serves as a reminder of the passage of time and that the past traditions and language we formerly used are threatening to be forgotten and lost to new generations.
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