Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
|Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: Back in the distant past, a King and Queen are ritually slain. Their love is strong, however, and through seven lifetimes and seven incarnations they seek to find each other, to reunite in a loving embrace.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: October 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013
Half a century into our future, a journalist called Eric Seven scents a story on a small, isolated island and goes to investigate. Rumours have spread, saying that people there never age, and that there are no children. He has barely set foot on the quay when he sees, and to his surprise falls in love with, a girl called Merle. But almost immediately we, the readers, realise that there is more than one mystery in this strange place. Why are the inhabitants so overwhelming in their welcome to him? What is happening on the other half of the island? And, most worryingly, why is Eric sleeping so much, and forgetting his reason for coming to the island for hours on end? From the very first page there are signs of menace and disorientation, and at last Eric overcomes his torpor and comes to understand that something is badly wrong. He endures terrible nightmares, full of blood and violence, and at the last, just as the islanders drag him to a stone table to kill him, things become clear in his mind. He has been here before. In fact, he has been here many, many times.
It is an intriguing idea, combining old myths, legends, and modern horror themes like those shown in 'The Wicker Man'. Love, sacrifice and bountiful harvests are themes which intermingle in many cultures and a major inspiration for Marcus Sedgwick is a painting called 'Midvinterblot', created by Carl Larsson in 1915. The painting attracted much controversy and public outrage when it was first shown, and although it was designed for the main hallway of the National Museum in Stockholm, it was only accepted and placed there in 1997. It is a huge, complex painting, full of pagan references, depicting a scene from Norse mythology where the king is sacrificed to avert a famine.
Marcus Sedgwick sets out to tell the story he sees in the painting. But he does not stop at a single event, however dramatic and colourful it may be. He takes the notion of death and sacrifice much, much further, leaping backwards through centuries and cultures in a series of short, superficially unconnected stories until we reach the place where the event depicted in the painting took place, before returning once more to Eric the journalist and his beloved Merle. He brings the King and Queen of the painting to life time and time again; each time they meet they portray a different aspect of love, as mother and son, as siblings, as artist and child, always close but never quite meeting as the lovers they swore they would one day be again until this last, seventh encounter.
This format is a real challenge to create, and only a writer as gifted as Mr Sedgwick could have brought it off successfully. We are sometimes several pages into the story before we realise who Eric and Merle are in each incarnation, but continuity is guaranteed not only because the main protagonists keep similar names, but also because of the use of recurring symbols such as the hare. Like some of his other work, this book does not shy away from brooding atmospheres and gruesome deaths, but at no time do they feel gratuitous: they are absolutely integral to the pagan belief which is the basis of the book, and always point beyond themselves to their ultimate purpose. As the reader moves back in time, he or she learns more and more about this purpose, about the tragedy which started the cycle of incarnations, growing in understanding of a love so intense, so deep that death cannot defeat it. This is a powerful book, rich in emotion and skilfully narrated, and without doubt many people will read it more than once in order to enjoy more fully the intricate mix of ideas and symbols it contains. It is a tour de force, and a thoroughly good read.
Many thanks to Orion for sending this excellent story to Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: If you want another strange and unsettling story by Marcus Sedgwick, try My Swordhand is Singing, a spine-chilling tale set in seventeenth century Romania. And for a second chilly tale, this time set in a more down to earth but equally atmospheric cabin beyond the Arctic Circle, try Revolver. They'll both make you shiver!
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick is in the The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013.
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