Welcome To Fetcheveryone

Our awesome training log doesn't hide its best features behind a paywall. Search thousands of events, get advice, play games, measure routes, and more! Join our friendly community of runners, cyclists, and swimmers.
Click here to get started
Already a Fetchie? Sign in here

The Gift of Stones - Jan 2020 - Book Group discussion thread

9 watchers
20 Jan
2:33pm, 20 Jan 2020
32826 posts
  • 0
LindsD
Hm. Interesting.
20 Jan
3:12pm, 20 Jan 2020
44429 posts
  • 0
Diogenes
[not saying I agree 100% with the above, but it does go someway to explaining why some are left with the impression that there are multiple narrators. Personally, I thought it was all unreliable as it is so much supposition on the part of the author about how a stone age culture might be, told in a contemporary style. But then, do things really change? Technological advances still leave old powers trailing.
20 Jan
11:23pm, 20 Jan 2020
15796 posts
  • 0
Serendippily
Scampered through this one of an evening. I enjoyed the rhythm of it and the contrast between stone and heath. I couldn’t imagine the stoneys living out in the open though - and they would make excellent house builders if only they could see past the spears ;-) An easy pleasant read
21 Jan
6:52am, 21 Jan 2020
15797 posts
  • 0
Serendippily
More history than expected reading back - I found this relatively light: pleasing concept, pleasingly and humorously written, looking forward to passing it on as a a good read but without the oomph I remembered from Quarantine. A welcoming choice
25 Jan
10:01pm, 25 Jan 2020
424 posts
  • 0
Peregrinator
The Gift of Stones

I once played one of those introduction games where you have to suggest someone as a companion on a desert island. Most of the groups nominations were the predictable, although I suspect Ray Mears nips off for a pie and a pint between takes - you don’t get that well covered living on limpets collected from the foreshore. But my feeling was that on a desert island you'd want someone to free you from the monotony of days not being rescued, the anxiety of storms and starvation, and the physical toil. A storyteller in fact.

I worried a bit that TGOS would be a Rosemary Sutcliff style historical fiction of life in the Neolithic, with free flint napping lessons. But I had confidence in Diogenes and Jim Crace (having read Quarantine before TGOS). What you realise is that the place and era are not what the book is about: this is not an account of the end of the stone age and the start of the bronze. The book is about stories and story tellers. The structure of the daughter telling stories told by her "father", who is a story teller, makes a pleasing hall of unreliable mirrors that invite us to question. And Crace is making up the whole thing.

We live in a time of stories - be it American politics, climate change or Brexit. What TGOS sets out is the power of story tellers in themselves, for their families and their society. It not about truth or (ironically) fiction: they might be leading us to a new fertile valley, or over a cliff edge, very likely they don't know. From Corbyn's 7 out of ten, to Cameron's "We'll improve it", there was no story on the Remain side to match British exceptionalism and assembled hordes. Maybe that is the success of Greta Thunberg: the story of wicked step-parents stealing the world from the children.

Unlike Michael Gove I am not suggesting we get rid of experts. But scientists, economists and others won't satisfy the need for stories. At the very least we can choose which stories to hear: the Widow rejects the Story teller. We can create our own stories, unlike the stone workers and the merchants. We can be aware of the power, even the necessity, of having stories to live by. Just railing against the story tellers risks losing any debate.

I liked this enormously as a story, the way it worked, and where it took me in thoughts. And I look forward to periodically getting one of Crace's other novels, whenever I need something to make me read and think.

So people cannot live by bread alone. You can keep Bear Grylls and the rest: my desert island companion is Scheherazade - the teller of 1001 tales. In addition to imagination and courage, she had "studied philosophy and the sciences, arts, and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred". Sounds ideal.
25 Jan
10:18pm, 25 Jan 2020
44539 posts
  • 0
Diogenes
Nice review. And Crace uses the stories to tell us about our own times; skills that become redundant, the subtle shift in the balance of power that takes us by surprise, the way societies adjust to circumstances, how people are used and abused, tolerated and persecuted on a whim.
25 Jan
10:18pm, 25 Jan 2020
15869 posts
  • 0
Serendippily
I hadn’t thought of the widow rejecting the narrative: only the narrator. So I liked that. I still found it relatively frothy though
25 Jan
10:25pm, 25 Jan 2020
32964 posts
  • 0
LindsD
Great review. Thank you.
28 Jan
7:50am, 28 Jan 2020
43078 posts
  • 0
McGoohan
I didn't entirely warm to this at first. I liked Columba's phrase 'self-consciously "poetic" writing' on page 2 of this thread. It's a style that sets my teeth on edge more often than not.

It worked better when I stopped taking it so literally. In that respect, similarly to Kasuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant - though that goes wandering off further down Magical Realist Avenue. But it is closer to that than Rosemary Sutcliff or Clan of the Cave Bear.

Yes it's about storytellers, but as much about the limits of storytelling when it comes up against cold, hard facts. I suppose it's also about the ability to cope with change. The 'final' bit of storytelling - recounting Doe's death [Ooops, SPOILER ALERT!] is a bit French Lieutenant's Woman: 'here are some competing possible endings, which do you fancy?'

Unlike Linds, I quite liked the unreliable narrator(s) but I'm a bit of a sucker for that school. In the end though, I liked the book without loving it, so I've stuck it on the 7 pile.
29 Feb
2:42pm, 29 Feb 2020
15777 posts
  • 0
Chrisull
I stuck it on the 7 pile too, also quoting LN earlier:

"The only thing that didn't quite work for me was the speed that the bronze-age took over. I had always imagined that it would have been much more gradual, maybe over a generation or two." - I definitely found this bit chafing, while the change happened quickly and brutally, we're not talking one Sunday afternoon over tea, it would have been a generation or two. I was happy with the multiple versions of what went on, in most places, you were guided down a particular interpretation, such as Doe's death, where despite the father's jealousy, he is obviously devastated by her death and didn't play an active part of it. It's like the Rashomon (film - Kurosawa) method of doing things and offers new light on what can otherwise be a rigid narrative.

However, it was a one sided view of life in pre Bronze age times that it was short, brutish and hard work (see Yuval Noah Harari's - Sapiens for an opposite interpretation of how hunter gatherer life might have been more rewarding that current everyday life), and seemed more like a vision of 20th century capitalism imposed over a stone age society, which I didn't buy. People didn't and couldn't work like that, they lived far more in rhythm with the seasons, the days, the light, they would have been more nomadic, if they weren't specifically engaged in agriculture and land clearances, they wouldn't have just traded for food, gathering food and water would have been number 1), everything else secondary.

However the story was timeless, and Crace can write despite the "self-consciously poetic" criticisms. I agree with McG in the resemblances to the Buried Giant, but what that did better was evoke the societies less tethered to one place, despite it being a) fantasy and b) set several thousand years later (400-500AD). So I liked it, I will read more Crace.

Got something to say?

To contribute to the discussion, you need to either sign in or register as a user.

About This Thread

Maintained by McGoohan
'WTF are these?' I said on Christmas morning, emptying the contents of my festive stocking...
Back To Top

Close