Michael Fishwick’s new novel tells the story of a young man called Robbie, who has been uprooted from his London home after his mother’s death. He finds himself in rural Dorset, where he inhabits a capacious present that has ample room for the intrusions of the mythic past.
Struggling with his loss, Robbie has taken to using arson to express his rage — which is why his father, having rapidly acquired a new partner and a couple of stepdaughters, has moved the family to his old childhood home to make a new start. But it’s an ancient start that this landscape has on offer. Robbie makes friends with a girl called Mags, just a few years older than he is, but a wise woman before her time, and she immediately introduces him to the folklore of the area, and in particular to the poetry associated with hares — creatures that defy fire. Fishwick understands that myths are best served neat, without explanation to dilute and maybe dispel them, so he describes the apparition of a white hare with admirable grace and simplicity, communicating its radiance without striving for literary effect: ‘Her ears were long and tapered like a bird’s wings, her body hunched like a question mark. She was so bright and so near, and there seemed to be a light about her . . .’
This stylistic directness enables him to integrate the varied ingredients of his tale into a single whole. When Robbie describes a sunset as ‘awesome’, the word is exactly poised between modern idiom and ancient wonder. Fishwick combines the pangs of bereavement and the perturbations of adolescence, exploring (often with a comic touch) family tensions as well as the terrors of the deep past, and all the time propelling his narrative along with an adventure that unfolds in the present. Apart from a few pages of clunky exposition about three-quarters of the way through, this is the best sort of magical realism — where the magic enhances the reality, and the realism gives solid immediacy to the magic.