And on the left I glimpse something else through the trees, a great dark shape rising up out of the ground. It is a mound set in its own clearing, and surrounded by old beeches that are taller than houses.
I slow as we approach it. “Keep up,” Luca says in a whisper. But my feet feel heavy, and it is as though there is a great cold stone in my stomach which wants to drag its way down through me to the clay and chalk of the path.
There is a light off in the trees, a flicker of fire by the black bulk of the mould and as we creep on I am sure I hear the ringing tap of a hammer on metal.
We are level with it now. Fire leaps up in a red flag of flame and shadows are going back and forth in front of it along with the rhythmic tap of the hammer. Something large blocks out the light as completely as a curtain for a second, and I clasp Luca’s hand until our bones quake together and feel that I have to stop, that I cannot move another step. But he pulls on me, breathing hard, and something deep and liquid and animal-like comes out of his mouth, a low snarl. I tear my eyes away from the mould and see the light in his, as silver as the moon but washed with green. And his lips have drawn back from his teeth like the face of a frightened dog.
I think I hear a horse whinny, and the stamp of its hooves seems to echo in the very earth below us. I cannot drag my gaze away from the mound and the flicker of fire. The silhouette moves across it again, and it is man-like; but just for a second I am sure I see a rack of antlers on its head.
We stagger on two steps, then three more, and I can feel the weight on my bowels lift a little, but just as we are about to get by I hear a new thing. It is a low sobbing, someone in pain at the side of the track.
And in the trees there I can make out the tumbled outline of a fallen stone, a megalith twice my height. The weeping comes from it, a sound to wretch the heart.
“Luca—“ I whisper.
He has my hand in a grip I cannot break, and my arm feels limp as rope as he tugs on it. I crane my head around, searching in the dark. And I think I see someone lying on the ground by the great fallen stone.
The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney is one of the most peculiar books I’ve ever read. It would be easy to say it is set in Oxford in 1929, but the setting is far more complex than that. It’s a fantastic mix of historical reality and legendary reality if this makes any sense. Oxford like it used to be and the countryside around it as it might have been, populated of spirits and presences that slip into the real world especially at certain time of the year, like New Year Eve.
It’s a spellbinding place and I would have read about it forever so fascinating it was.
Anna, the twelve-year-old protagonist, is a remarkable characters. She’s naive like her age suggests, but she’s also very mature for her age, maybe because of the ordeals she went through. She’s a Greek refugee who survived the Turk invasion and destruction of her city, Smyrna.
I really like the way Anna deals with her Greek native identity and her English acquired identity. Both identities are true and important to her and she accepts this as natural, without angst or discomfort.
She’s also a girl that never loses heart, no matter what horrible things happen to her. She’s an endearing character.
And let me tell you that, being a Tolkien fan, I loved the echoes of Tolkien’s work in this story (you might have recognise one such episode in the excerpt above). Some of Tolkien’s ideas mingled so naturally in this story that I had no doubt they belonged here, even when I recognised the origin.
Really a beautiful book.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies