Saturday, October 28, 2017

45. Duncton Wood by William Horwood

I have been exercising my reading muscles significantly in the last few months, but I am not sure I was quite ready for a 750+ page fantasy epic, even if it is about moles in Britain.  I was able to read it consistently and finish it in over a week.  However, I found it a bit of a slog at the end and there were passages where I found myself skimming or drifting off in my thoughts.

Duncton Wood had been on my list for ages (The Farthing Woods books being the other animals in Britain stories that continue to elude me).  I found it finally at least a year ago, but the damn thing was so thick that it sat on my shelf all this time collecting dust, intimidating me.  With my new found reading energy and commitment to clearing off my on-deck shelf, the time finally came and I jumped in.

Duncton Wood is the epic story of a community of moles and the heroic journey of two of them to deliver it from evil and back to the spiritual connection with its past, as represented by the great stone.  I won't go into the storyline because I am averse to any spoilers and part of the pleasure is discovering how it all plays out.  I mean, either you want to read an epic tale of mole fable or you don't.  Nothing I say hear is really going to change your mind.  It is good.  I can definitely say that.  The imposition of a civilized social order on the biological reality of mole existence is really cool and though much of it is invented, their base behaviour feels very realistic (and an afterword that gives an overview of real moles makes it clear that most of it is realistic).  For instance, much of the questing and learning by one of the protagonists is how he develops his tunnel exploring and then construction skills.  He learns how sound works in tunnels so that he can identify locations by them (and build his own that take advantage of that).  There are great descriptions of the diverse environments of the British countryside from a mole's perspective.  There is also hot mole sex (and sometimes awful mole violation), mole combat and even mole kung-fu training.

I am sure this book is known and well-respected, though I imagine there is a generation of nerds out there who should discover this for themselves.  Personally, I can say that it wasn't entirely too my taste.  It's pretty rough, almost too much bad stuff happens for me to have truly enjoyed (I'm soft as you probably can tell by now).  The two protagonists and especially Bracken, the male, spend a lot of time being bummed out or angry and it started to bum me out.  By the end, the story is complex and the author skilled enough that you understand why, so I point this out as a matter of personal preference rather than critique. 

If you consider fantasy your genre, Duncton Wood should probably be on your list. However, holy crap I see there are 5 more sequels.  I am not sure I am quite up to that level of completion.

[POSTSCRIPT for those who have read the book, still pretty much spoiler free]
I also note here that I am suspect of the behaviour of Rebecca towards her father Mandrake.  I get that she is a healer and their love was a complex thing and part of the complexity of her character, but I do not think a female author would have ever written it in this way and it felt very off given the way our society is finally (I hope) evolving to undersand and condemn the role of sexual violence in our culture.  I am speaking very obliquely to avoid spoilers, but when you read it you will see what I am talking about.

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