The Falconer by Alice Thompson

June 10, 2010 | No Comments

Some books evoke a particular piece of music, others, a particular color. The Falconer (2008) by Alice Thompson reminded me of a painting in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which fascinated me as a child. The Fairy Raid (1867) by Scottish pre-Raphaelite Noel Paton depicts a fairy caravan traveling through a grove with a bounty of stolen children, having left changelings in their stead. It’s an enchanting, overtly romantic work, but death and duplicity hide in the shadows, symbolizing the Victorian fear of high childhood mortality.

In 1936, Iris Tennant becomes personal assistant to Lord Melfort, Under Secretary of War and supporter of appeasement, in order to discover why her sister committed suicide in his employ. The Scottish author Alice Thompson, known for her symbolic style (reminiscent of the mystical post-modern works of Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt, or Penelope Fitzgerald), structures The Falconer like a recurring dream in which characters neither speak nor act in realistic fashion, and in which nature is a beguiling and threatening force. Iris’s job must allow abundant free time given she spends most of her days either going for, or coming from, walks in the exquisite Scottish glen surrounding Melfort’s castle. True, dreams don’t contain linear plots, but this device, while adding menace, drains emotion. (This bothered me though not quite as much as it bothered the Scotsman’s reviewer!) But then, fairy tales often bother me for exactly the same reason. Therefore, for those who like this kind of thing then this might be the kind of thing they’ll like. Thompson’s determination to mine allegory from every fossil, stone, plant, bird, and weed in the Highlands in order to underscore the Nazi’s manipulation of Aryan mythology, felt too heavy-handed to me. Still, I’ll probably give her another go. (An interview with Scottish author Thompson can be found here in The Scottish Review of Books.)

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