Book Review: 'Red Shift'

Originally published in England in 1973, Red Shift by Alan Garner appears now in the United States in a new edition. The book interweaves three stories from distinct historical perspectives: the second century, 17th century and 20th century. And it considers the nature of experience.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

A British novel first published in 1973 takes on a new life with an American edition out now. "Red Shift" by Alan Garner tells three distinctly different stories from vastly different time periods, all with one thing in common: location.

Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "Red Shift" opens in Cheshire in modern times with the intense and troubled adolescent lovers: Tom, whose parents are raising him in a trailer park, and Jan, a girl with more experience, about to work in London. They're creating a world of their own, rebelling against their parents and speaking a language of code and symbols that becomes a kind of poetry of its own and will remind you of the dialogue from a Harold Pinter play.

Juxtaposed with their story are two others, one taking us back to Celtic Britain where the rough and murderous survivors of a lost Roman legion try to make a haven for themselves amidst assorted rough tribes.

The third narrative gives us a window on Cheshire in the early 17th century when, in the midst of a civil war, a band of royal soldiers attacks a village and executes almost all the Puritan-leaning inhabitants.

Garner plays with time and historical perspective in this slim book with the alacrity and paradoxical ease of a writer whose grasp of a large cast of characters and radically ephemeral material remains firm. There's never now, Tom says to Jan one winter night, even as they're drifting apart and gazing up at a distant galaxy. The galaxy may not exist, Tom says. It isn't even where we think it is. It's so far away, we're looking at it as it was when the Romans were here.

This reprint gives us a novel many of us weren't aware of when it first came out, a book that itself gives off an intense light like a galaxy quite close to our own. Brilliant.

RAZ: The book is "Red Shift" from Alan Garner. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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