Thursday, 10 April 2014

‘The Shapechanger’ – Robert Holdstock

I’m trying to ‘de-clutter’ my bookshelves at the moment. Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with bookshelves jammed full of books waiting to be discovered but my shelves feel a little bit daunting at the moment and I’m not down with that. I want my shelves to be welcoming places, with the promise of a good read to be had, and that’s not the case – hence the de-clutter. This means another trip to the micro-library up the road, tonight, but a happier consequence (in the meantime) is that I’ve started to find books that I had totally forgotten about; books like ‘The Bone Forest’, a collection of short stories by Robert Holdstock. By the way, isn't that a lovely cover? Grafton Books really used to put the effort in as far as that went, shame there isn't more like it these days...

I’d found this book in Plymouth a few years ago, just  after I’d read ‘Mythago Wood’ and was on a mission to read more of Holdstock’s stuff. As is the way with my reading intentions, this morning was the first time I’d actually opened the book… Better late than never and all that :o) I'll be revisiting this book every now and then; for today I thought I'd kick things off with 'The Shapechanger'...

On the surface, ‘The Shapechanger’ is about a case of demonic possession in 8th century England, one that has transformed an entire village and trapped the sons of the village chief. The Wolfhead (some kind of Druid I’m thinking, maybe a little bit more as he claims to have been around for a few centuries) and his apprentice must do what they can to free the trapped men. As you read on though, ‘The Shapechanger’ becomes a whole lot more as it ties in to Holdstock’s wider ‘Mythago Wood’ cycle in a very interesting way. Without giving too much away, the whole concept behind ‘Mythago Wood’ is given a twist and we see how it might work in a different time entirely. I’d say it’s very well handled here; it’s not given away all at once (little clues are dropped here and there for the reader to reach their own conclusion) and it leaves you not only with a fresh look at the world of ‘Mythago Wood’ but you can’t help but wonder if the setting here was real at all. It’s thought provoking stuff in that respect. I couldn’t help but wish though that I’d re-read ‘Mythago World’ a little more recently as revisiting it would have helped me understand why certain characters were able to do what they did. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to have a re-read (maybe in time for when the new Fantasy Masterworks edition is published?), that’s not exactly a huge chore is it?

The other thing I liked was how much of a sense of history (going back into pre-history I think) Holdstock has managed to cram into just under thirty pages, mostly through the Wolfhead and his recounting of events that he has lived through. It really fleshes out the world and gives the reader a sense of having chanced upon something much bigger than a short story.

‘The Shapechanger’ has a sense of depth then that drew me in almost effortlessly. Not only that though, it has left me really thinking about what happened and what it might all mean. I wish more short stories could be like that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment