Map of Blue Book Balloon

7 September 2019

Review - The Silver Wind by Nina Allan

Cover by Julia Lloyd
The Silver Wind
Nina Allan
Titan Books, 10 September 2019
PB, 366pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of The Silver Wind to consider for review.

The Silver Wind feels to me like a key to Allan's writing.

Over the past couple of years I have loved her novels The Race, The Rift and most recently, The Dollmaker. In these (mostly) earlier stories loosely following the career of Martin Newland and of a group of characters round him whose histories, identities and lives shift, merge and overlap, I can see foreshadowings of themes and features of those other books.

The devastated south coast of England that is the backdrop to parts of The Race.

The theme of loss and abandonment central to The Rift.

Andrew Garvie, the marginalised (dwarf) protagonist of The Dollmaker, that book's quest for an elusive creator, Ewa Chaplin, and the intertwining landscape of her stories that forms the background to the story (including the alternate, militaristic England in which a famous actress departs or dies, and perhaps the germ of the "court dwarf" theme itself.

More fundamentally there's Allan's forensic, yet tender, sense of place - demonstrated in Garvie's journey through Reading to the West of England and in The Silver Wind through an almost passionate exploration of the Streets of Southwark, of the woods of Shooter's Hill, of South Coast towns. In her writing you almost know these places, you feel your feet wandering down alleys and lanes and you feel the strangeness when a step takes you out of your way.

I'm in danger of. dissolving into mere vapid praise. It's hard to write this review because my usual go-to move - lightly summarise the plot and draw out memorable incidents - just won't work. This is less a single story than a collection, but a collection in which every new story reworks, reinterprets, deconstructs or comments on the others.

The same characters recur but with drastically different histories. In the first, "The Hurricane" apprentice watchmaker Owen Andrews travels to London from Devon to take up a new post, leaving Newland and his sister Dora behind and remembered but peripheral. In another, set in that militaristic alt-world, Andrews is a master craftsman, holed up in a remote wood (hints of fairytale) who Newland, an estate agent, seeks out. In other stories the relationship between Newland and Dora is explored and Andrews is a marginal figure.

Yet behind these differences at the same time these are the same people, the stories are the same stories. Explanations in one story sometimes cast light on the others, sometimes not. We never learn what became of Andrews after he flees at the end of "The Hurricane", set seemingly in an alternate 1920s (but apparently warping to the present day at the end). Never, that is, unless the call back at the beginning of "Rewind" (which is surely looking back to the, or a, 19th century?) is the answer.  Motifs recur - the Circus Man on the beach in a South Coast seaside town, the lesbian "Aunts", an Uncle Henry who plays different roles. Most of all, perhaps, a sense of loss, of mourning a dead sister, a dead wife, a dead lover.

Complex, multilayered, multithreaded, this is less a collection of stories than its own mythology - in that respect it reminded me of M John Harrison's Viriconium stories - both unified and driven by the theme of time, time lost, regained, altered, of clocks and watches, of the mysterious tourbillon mechanism and i's creator, Breuget. Often introduced into the story as gifts (often from Uncle Henry) and referred to as "time machines" (a nice pun) the watches and clocks which Andrews constructs have abilities that go beyond merely marking time. They are active, though we never know the exact rules: it's as though the stories here are the same story, running through permutations and alternatives yet influencing each other as though different worlds overlap, a whole litter of Schrödinger's cats running round the house with different balls of wool, always separate , always entangled.

This book makes for rich, significant storytelling, storytelling where every word matters, every story is complete but the collection as a whole is also complete, adding whole levels of meaning. It's a book you can come back and reread, with new insights, where every different part adds much to the rest.

Very enjoyable, very thought-provoking and like a glimpse into an entirely new world. Finally, look at that glorious cover by Julia Lloyd - truly a thing of beauty!

Strongly recommended.

For more about this book, see the publisher's website here. You can buy it from your local bookshop, including via Hive Books, or from Blackwell's, Waterstones, Foyle's, WH Smith or Amazon.

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