07 December 2017

Guest Reviewer on The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

Godson has some things to say about The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage:
…the book ostensibly isn’t on the scale of the trilogy. I was somewhat worried, until I realised that whilst the book limits itself to the Thames, almost entirely to Oxfordshire, and for swathes two buildings, the adventure is still epic beyond belief.

To think critically for a moment, this book can almost be called magic realism, not fantasy. Or at least it is fantasy of the Terry Pratchett school - it can tell very ordinary stories on a heroic scale. The echoes of Pullman’s predecessors and contemporaries are obvious. Add Pratchett’s humour to Gaiman’s dark twist (Pullman jokingly called La Belle Sauvage ‘His Darker Materials’) to C. S. Lewis’ storytelling and worlds to Lewis Carroll’s allegory (and, as one critic pointed out, the fact that Pullman’s heroine is called Alice is slightly on-the-nose) and you begin to approach Pullman’s brilliance.

Approach, mind you - La Belle Sauvage is a clinic in how to structure a novel, allaying each fear I had almost as soon as I had it, the pattern mimetic of the action itself. It brought to my mind the episodic nature of the Icelandic Sagas at one point, a Christie-esque murder mystery at another, thrillers, love stories and epics at others. It transcends genre, and does so to the tune of Pullman’s beautifully simple prose, that captures in the same way as the originals a Romantic quality that is inherently readable for everyone.
The full essay is on his school’s book blog.