Wednesday 6 January 2010

Duncton Stone - William Horwood

So here we are - Duncton Stone the last of six books chronicling the turbulent lives of moles that live by the Stone and strive to seek Silence. I can't say it's been the most gripping journey, particularly the three books that comprise the 'Book of Silence' but I am pleased to report that this third book at least improves a little on the second, which was the worst kind of religious diatribe to be committed to paper.

In this book, Privet is still in a state of Silence after the supposed death of both Rooster, her mate, and Whillan, her adopted son. The rest of moledom looks to her as an example of how to face the tyranny of the Newborn. Over the course of the novel we watch Quail's progress to a more spiritual state, and finally discover the whereabouts of Glee and Humlock.

I'll deal briefly with the good parts, since the bad still outweighs the good...

Horwood's biggest strength is still being able to produce decent characters on both sides of the conflict: we feel sympathy for Whillan; enjoy Rooster's muddled phraseology; adore Pumpkin and Fieldfare for the faithful and true characters they are. On the Newborn side we can enjoy the discovery of Thripp's true character; and deeply despise the evil characters of Quail and Snyde for their foul and noxious attributes. Thorne and Thripp, in particular, amply illustrate the fact that both good and evil can be found in one mole.

Horwood presents some good discussion on the nature of religion: where opposing sides in a conflict are in essence worshipping the same thing (here, the Stone). Parallels can be drawn with Protestants and Catholics in medieval England.

There is also a decent treatise on wars and how to end them without force and revenge in order to avoid a self-perpetuating cycle of retaliation. Horwood presents the idea that if one side stands down and opposes with silent love and forgiveness it can have a more powerful impact.

Since this is the last book in the Duncton sequence I will finally mention the very beautiful covers drawn by John Barber – they are lovely and sympathetic to the stories within.

And here comes the bad: despite the fact that there is a final battle between the Newborn and the followers; despite the fact that Privet and Rooster are reunited and she discovers the Book of Silence; despite this and much more it feels as though nothing much happens.

There are pages and pages of dull plodding from one place to another; Horwood fills further pages with spiritual mumbo-jumbo. This takes enormous time and effort to plough through.

Considering the enormous part she plays in the novel, Privet is a truly awful character. You end up having little sympathy for a mole who is full of self pity, grouchy, snaps at others, seems to have no warmth or affection for her adopted son. I had little interest in her progress or the resolution to her tale.

God, these moles cry! Seriously, at everything! Weeping, sobbing, tears streaming, watery eyes, sniffling – Horwood plundered the thesaurus for these poor emotional souls.

But my biggest complaint is that Horwood’s descriptions of depraved moles and moles in pain becomes relentless, grotesque and graphic. I give you a few samples to illustrate my point and let you know why I’ll never be revisiting these books:

“Beyond the cell’s walls, Squelch giggled and sighed, and heaved his obese body about excitedly, as below him, Snyde snouted at the dead body he had power over, which could not mock his deformities or threaten him, then savagely began his pleasure.” (Necrophilia)

“Quail panted with the effort of his speech, his stomach palpitating, his odour wafting all about like the stench of death, the strange projecting growth at his rear end stiff and quivering like some pus-filled swollen talon pointing backwards.” (Unnecessary disgusting details of deformity)

“He was maimed in the front right paw and the left hind paw, so that he could only crawl; he was mutilated so that his maleness was all gone; his snout was sheered off at its tip, to cause him agony.” (Torture sequence)

Just not nice.

1 comment:

  1. I've just posted a comment on a review of "Duncton Rising" which I found on this site so I think it would be good to comment a little on this very well written review of Duncton Stone.
    I'm glad that the reviewer has made some very positive observations about a book she clearly dislikes, but I have to ask: - Why did she bother to read to the end of the series when she seems to have really hated "Duncton Rising" as well? If I dislike an author's style or a particular series I simply move on to another author. I wouldn't dream of forcing myself to continue with something I considered to be bad. William Horwood doesn't pull any punches and his writing is both beautiful and shocking, but this is all part of his style, especially in the Duncton books. The descriptions of torture and deformity are indeed awful to read, but they are alive in their intensity and they make one recoil from the very idea of torture while drawing sympathy for the deformities. Horwood doesn't fall into the trap of making the deformed Quail a "good" character. This particular mole is both malformed and nasty and this combination challenges a tendency to overcompensate for deformity by writing characters with deformation into the "good" side of the spectrum.
    I'm surprised the reviewer feels that not much happened because an awful lot happened in my copy of this book! The journeys were eventful and adventurous and were all cleverly linked into a densely written whole. How on earth did Horwood hold this series, with its mass of wonderfully described detail, in his head?
    I would certainly read this work again because I doubt that I more than chipped away at the surface the first time around.