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An extremely luxurious, meticulously designed, dustjacketed hardback tome – with 64 pages of about 5″ square.
My edition is numbered 23/85.
Pages 7 – 31 (about halfway through this story)
“As he lay awake, it seemed that the moon, the stars and the hill, were aligned, part of the slip and drift of the cosmos, whilst he remained below, cut off from its magic.”
As I read that passage, I immediately thought of another book by this author, one entitled ‘The Gold of Decayed Stars’.
This story so far really hits certain notes that any Colin Insole fan would expect, as I am, as I do. The school where James Bulverton attended in 1912, and we crisscross with his time then, and now returning to the area in 1940, with memories of action in the First World War, all to the striking visual backdrop in words, that of the red terrain around the school, the hill itself from the title, the mining and its collapsed remains, a sense of the chemical smell, with James also thinking about the school’s self-imposed ‘cocktail of horror and glamour’ of two necessary scapegoat pupils who grew up treacherous, and James’ anti-paradisal Miltonic epiphany, where he boisterously became his own boyhood person by absconding — like (in my mind and perhaps my mind alone) The Magic Mountain’s Hans Castorp in his epiphany amid the snowy Alps — to this quite contrastive red terrain. The meteor shower, the affinity of the terrain with Flanders that he had then only experienced retrocausally, I sense.
Somehow I do not wish to read the rest of this story – until I have to. As I will. Later rather than sooner, to keep the work on the brink of completion as long as possible.
Pages 32 – 59
I now know why I instinctively wanted to finish reading this book halfway through last night. It was because, in hindsight, I unaccountably knew that I could not proceed in this review without dropping plot spoilers like bombs in 1940 upon the school buildings, their windows duly blacked-out — or without dropping red ash from some meteor storm upon James Bulverton as he sought out the old site, on Cinders Hill, of his epiphany in 1912.
You see, this is one of those rare events when my sense of wonder about a story becomes exponential. It is really something special, and I dare not tell you anything specific, but the various teasers and trailers in the first half fit perfectly with what transpires in the second. It is absolutely perfect. The cunning interpretation of intentions, the descriptions of environment both cosmic and local, scapegoats feeding on scapegoats, and past bullying recouped. The school itself as an entity, the hidden thoughts of those associated with the school artfully revealed through the reader’s own ability to scry them, having been given that ability by the structure of the story itself.
Some may claim that one story (that I estimate to be between 9000 and 10000 words) to be given a single physical book as its vehicle is going over the top. The book is indeed spectacularly designed and superbly handleable with what I assess to be the costliest of materials, and this story does indeed deserve this exquisite setting. In fact it can only be read in such a setting, and in two bites, as I have just done, otherwise you would be diminishing the experience. A landmark experience of both form and content for anyone. And the scapegoat is finally transcended or fulfilled.
Still, I do easily imagine this story being republished time and time again with the retroactive impulse of future literary history. And those future readers will very much appreciate it, no doubt, for what it is, but they will never be able to appreciate it in the way that owners of this book as its first readers were privileged to read it.