Black Spring by Alison Croggon: revisiting Heathcliff for a spell

black spring by alison croggonAlison Croggon, whose fantasy novel The Gift (first of the Pellinor series) floated my boat way on release in 2002, has done a fine job of cutting to the chase in Black Spring (Walker Books, 2012), which makes no bones about its strong foundation in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

Croggon takes the structure — a narrator arrives, meets some of the players and receives the story in a monologue from someone in the know — the mood and the cornerstones of the plot about thwarted desire, class and revenge, but does some elegant re-imagining.

UPDATE, VIDEO: Alison Croggon talks Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë and Black Spring at the Wheeler Centre

The moors are out; instead, it’s a highland plateau — just as isolated, just as windswept — with a touch of the fantastic.

Narrator Hammel, a writer, begins in an almost New Weird setting of hedonistic city, where the literati have their own guild and a certain social sway. It might bring to mind the shenanigans of the Romantics wine bar crowd. Hammel retires to the north, a rented manor in sight of the Black Mountains. The plateau is a land of mystery, a kind of Transylvania meets Sicily, with changeable weather and a certain harshness, just right for this dark tale. It’s a land of small villages, of priests vying with magicians for the fear of the populace if not their hearts, of rampant superstition … and the vendetta, a way in which the king’s coffers are enriched and the male population is culled.

It might be a fantastical setting but for the incongruous presence of the Catholic church, uncomfortable in a land where magicians really can burn people from the inside out, send curses and engage in psychic combat, making this more of an alternative realm.

Hammel meets the Heathcliff analogue, Damek; has a suitably wonderful paranormal experience in line with Lockwood’s dream of Cathy in the Brontë version; and then is told the tragic story of Damek’s obsession with Lina, the daughter of the local lord both blessed and cursed with royal and witch blood.

Perhaps the most notable departure from Brontë’s text is in the ending — this isn’t called Black Spring for nothing!

The characters are all suitably flawed, each unable to prevent the inevitable tragedies that drag them all down.

Croggon uses suitably prose of the era with all her poetic might, delivering a satisfying if — as I recall the original — slow-paced recounting of love and revenge.

  • This is my fourth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust — and completes my commitment to review four titles. There are, however, more on the shelf — let’s see how I go!
  • Fantastic news: Lanagan, McGahan and double the Alison!

    Firstly, Margo Lanagan is being feted at Adelaide Writers Week. A thoroughly deserved recognition of a very fine author.

    Secondly, the Wheeler Centre is back in the swing, and has posted a video of Alison Goodman and Alison Croggon discussing their approach to fantasy: something both write extremely well (cf The Two Pearls of Wisdom/Eon and The Gift, respectively).

    And thirdly, I’ve reviewed The Coming of the Whirlpool, the first book of Andrew McGahan’s YA fantasy series, over at ASiF. An enjoyable, intriguing read for anyone who’s had an eye(patch) on swashbuckling.

    Emerging Writers Festival: the fun ‘slide’ of writing

    Finally dragged my carcass down to the Emerging Writers Festival last night, thanks to Kirstyn being on a panel about speculative fiction and then the urging of EWF party animal Alex Adsett to see Not Your Nana’s Slide Night.

    The panel went well if quietly, moderated by Rjurik Davidson with Alison Croggon (her Gift still ranks as one of my favourite fantasy books), Kirstyn and Paul Haines (his Last Days of Kali Yuga collection is out now, get it while you can because the publisher has folded*). There was talk of breaking taboos and other-worldly examinations of our own, and process. Apparently, Twitter commentaries are the new meter of popularity (?) for events: certainly, they illustrate how different people will home in on different things, and hear them differently.

    The slide night at the Trades Hall, complete with bar, was a cracker. Nine writers talked to a series of 20 slides, each slide on screen for 20 seconds, and the diversity was wonderful and entertaining indeed. A dry-witted introduction to Scotland, a crayon-ish exploration of a small town devoted to museums (lost clothing, body discardations, bicycles in a bus masquerading as a museum of transport), a holiday in Barcelona bouncing off America’s Next Supermodel, Indian food, suggestions for what should’ve been Melbourne’s Fed Square, drawings from time spent in Asia… and so on. Some funny, some poignant, some informative: all entertaining. I mentioned there was a bar, didn’t I? A superb locus for the atmosphere of the event.

    Folks we met were rapt in how egalitarian and warm the festival has been (it’s not over yet) and I saw plenty of evidence of that (good luck with that SF novel, Trish; with that creative writing course, James); I really must make the effort to get to more events next year and enjoy the bonhomie.

    Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines* There a reported 300 copies of Kali in the wild. Look to a bookstore near you. The good news is, for those with an e-reader, the book is available in e-format (Amazon, Smashwords, et al)! This is Haines’ third collection, it includes the awesome novella Wives and a despairingly good new yarn about a man on a bridge with a child. I thought I’d be able to flit through the collection quickly, having read his previous two, but his writing just won’t let you do that. You read one par, then two, and then you’re stuck, dragged into a very human story with just the right amount of fractured reality to entrance and bedevil.