Some books I’m glad I read before reading any reviews. What would I have learned? It’s set in the Stone Age. Instantly, I’d be put off. I’d be imagining Raquel Welsh in a fur bikini – not a bad thing in itself – and all the other nonsense from one Million Years BC or Ice Age. Or Clan of the Cave Bear which I just couldn’t get into when I tried (admittedly years ago).
And Gift Of Stones is so much more than that! Beautiful and evocative. And lyrical in its careful and sparse prose.
Crace – and I’ve only read one other by him, the Man Booker nominated Harvest which I reviewed in February 2014 – seems to be drawn to the ends of eras: Harvest focused on the end of the agrarian period of English history with the Enclosure Acts; here, the focus is on the end of the Stone Age and the arrival of the Bronze Age. The devastation of a community before the sweeping tide of history.
The plot itself is remarkably economical: a boy from a village which crafts flint tools is injured and loses an arm. Being unable to work flint with one arm, he becomes restless and wanders away from the village one day, meeting a woman and her daughter on the heath. Each time he leaves the village, he returns with exotic tales of ships and seas and heaths and geese and women. On one occasion, he brings the woman and child back with him.
There’s also a wonderful symmetry to the book which opens and closes with an arrow shot by a horseman.
I also find that it’s the mark of a great book – as opposed to a good read perhaps – that I end up photographing passages and posting them on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook. And this book has a lot of quotable material in it! And, as the main character- the father of the narrator – is a story teller, many of them are focused on the craft of storytelling itself.
I mean, we could start with this one:
Why tell the truth when lies are more amusing, when lies can make the listener shake her head and laugh – and cough – and roll her eyes? People are like stones. You strike them right, they open up like shells.
Salute the liars – they can make the real world disappear and a fresh world take its place.
The paradox is this – we do love lies. The truth is dull and half asleep. But lies are nimble spirited, alive. And lying is a craft.
And if lying is a craft, Jim Crace is an experienced and wonderful master craftsman!
Plot / Pace:
Date: 4th January 2008