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I started this book last night. Although (as you can see on my reading list) I'm usually more interested in contemporary realist fiction, I'm finding this an enjoyable read.

I'm impressed by the way the author manages to describe a world that is completely foreign to ours without creating any particular extra distance between the reader and the characters. Her people have very different beliefs and life experiences from us (for instance, they name their children seeming to believe they are reincarnations of deceased family members) but these are integrated into the plot in a way that seems very natural and doesn't slow down the story at all.

I'll probably have more to say in a bit :)

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Finsihed the book yesterday. Enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. The way the multiple voice narrative drew the reader into the whole story was gently and stealthily done. I kept thinking I would like a map to know exactly where I was, but after reading the Author's Afterword I had to agree she was right not to do that (even if she could).

 

One of two questions are floating round in my head for Margaret Elphinstone, but I want to think about it some more yet.

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I started this a couple of days ago and at the moment I'm finding it a little hard to get into but I get the feeling that once I am I will enjoy it.

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The way the multiple voice narrative drew the reader into the whole story was gently and stealthily done.

 

I liked the way the narrators told the story while sitting around a campfire on a few nights as years passed. It created some feeling of authenticity because we know that stone-age people kept their history in a oral form, telling stories.

 

Believability is a big problem with a novel about people whose lives are so different from ours that we can't really know them, and I thought this technique went some way towards addressing that problem.

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I'm glad there's some discussion starting here.

 

Please do post your questions in the thread - Margaret has said that she'd be delighted to come in and discuss the book with you. I will be collecting the questions and sending them on to her, so would it be possible to get most of the questions posted by 2 June?

 

You can expect Margaret to log in and answer your questions some time after that.

 

(I'm away from Thursday 21 May till Monday 1 June.)

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I started this a couple of days ago and at the moment I'm finding it a little hard to get into but I get the feeling that once I am I will enjoy it.

 

On a personal level, I also found it a bit hard in the beginning, but it ultimately drew me in. I suspect it's because I've never read anything like this before, so I didn't know what to expect/think.

 

Andrea

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I'm 87 pages in and finding it very easy going. I'm not sure where the story is going yet because it is all still at the background stage (I think). Good so far though.

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I finished this earlier tonight. I think the first third took me about a week to read and the rest about two days. I couldn't put the book down. I really enjoyed the story, loved the way the story was told by so many narrators and wanted to know what happened next.

 

So my question for Margaret is:

What was the resolution to Kemen's dilemma? Was is simply that all People are the same family?

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My question for Margaret:

 

I loved the way places are descriptively named and some of the activities explained in great detail. But I was brought up short by the use of the word 'rape'. Despite being derived from the Latin rapere this seems to me to be a modern word. I wondered whether these peoples would have another way of describing it. Was the choice of language spoken by the peoples a major part of your considerations in the construction of the story?

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To make sure the questions to Margaret catch the eye I have edited the two(?) posted so far and emboldened them. Is this OK with the posters? May i suggest that others do the same with their questions?

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I have had one problem with this book - reading it. Now I don't mean reading the words off the page because I can manage that quite well now. ;) No, what I mean is holding the book open sufficiently well for me to read it into the centre of the book. This has a lot to do with the arthritis in my hands I know, but I did find it difficult to open the book without ruining the spine. In fact by the time I got to the middle of the book that is what happened. Did anyone else have difficulty keeping the book open sufficiently to read it comfortably - I mean the able bodies amongst us I suppose?

 

There was something else that bothered me for some time when reading but I will use a spoiler in case not everyone has finished

When Basajaun is killed Itzal and his fellow slayers ate his cooked liver and drank his blood (ugh!). Yet when his cousin (nameless) was killed his slayers washed every drop of blood off their bodies and clothes. At first I was confused and then decided that since Basajaun (as a named person) was to continue in the Auk peoples (or so the Go Betweens said) they had to absorb his blood at the time of death. Yet, my reading of the story is that Basajaun was the slayer of Bakar and a rather nasty character but his cousin seems to be quite innocent.

Am I missing something in the story?

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I too had difficulty holding the nook open as I am also a bit anal about keeping my spines pristine. This book was either very well made or the margins were small and so it needed to be held further open.

 

To answer your question Barblue I think it was because his name wasn't going to live on. Is that right Margaret?

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My question concerns creating the time period. I'm curious about how much research the author did, and was it from visiting the areas she's writing about, or reading scientific evidence about stoneage Scotland?

 

Also, the blurb likens the story to a parable about contemporary climate change. Is that an aspect of the story that the author was conscious of as she was writing?

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I'm about half way through the book and it is now gripping me more than it did at the beginning. I'm hoping to finish it in the next couple of days.

 

My favourite quote so far is on page 55 and I think I can relate to it as I get up at the crack of dawn to get the train each morning. It just sums up the mornings sometimes:

 

".....but the Sun wasn't too tired to burn the chill off the morning."

 

I understand exactly what is mean by that.

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I am still reading this book and thoroughly enjoying it. However, as I read I have been wondering where the ideas for the way in which the characters lived, spoke and thought came from, so I jumped to the Author’s Afterword to find out more. I thought that Margaret’s technique of constructing their lives and language from her research of other societies which we do understand more about, for example, Inuit, Native American, Aboriginal, etc. and using a name system taken from the Basque language was a very good way of getting around this problem. My question for Margaret is, “Did you ever feel frustrated by the lack of concrete evidence as to how your characters lived and communicated or did you simply feel that, as an author, this allowed you more freedom to create a fictional world?”

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Did you ever feel frustrated by the lack of concrete evidence as to how your characters lived and communicated or did you simply feel that, as an author, this allowed you more freedom to create a fictional world?”

 

and

 

But I was brought up short by the use of the word 'rape'. Despite being derived from the Latin rapere this seems to me to be a modern word. I wondered whether these peoples would have another way of describing it. Was the choice of language spoken by the peoples a major part of your considerations in the construction of the story?

 

I am sure this was one of the most difficult (if not THE) decisions for the author to make, along with actual "concepts" e.g. would the concept of rape exist in an early society? or the concept of other "humans" "gods or GOD"

"family". It is possible to extend the ideas such as Maternal Instinct and Survival Instinct from the animal kingdom, but how far will these have progressed /developed in the time period?

 

There are, indeed, a lot of challanges facing an author brave enough to try and actualise a period of which we have so little information. I must say that I think Margaret has succeeded remarkably well.

Bravo! :clap:

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Meg said she would highlight in Bold print all the questions. I notice that Kimberley's two questions have not be treated in this manner. Can we highlight them - or have you picked them up already Andrea? I would love to know the answers to both.

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Just finished and ralise I am probably a little late with questions. However I would like to know why the "chapters" were headed with "xxxxx said" this rang very wrong with me and would have felt more comfortable with just a name or with the speaker introducing themselves at the beginning of each part of the story. eg "I, whoever, remember.......2

 

It is a minor point but it irritated me.

On the whole tho I enjoyed the book, it is the sort of thing I would read and found it easy to get into. I found echoes of later mythology such as Herne the hunter and the wild hunt in the scenes where the go betweens spoke to the animals and the hunting of Basajaun.

The question raised around rape didnt strike me particuarly in fact seemed to fit well, the importance of "family" and the continuation of names would mean that it would be important for a woman to know who fathered her child and any confusion over parenthood could lead to the child not being "recognized".

 

However I did feel that some modern concepts were being placed in a society that would not have had need for them.

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Margaret's asked if I'd post her answers on her behalf, so here goes:

 

I loved the way places are descriptively named and some of the activities explained in great detail. But I was brought up short by the use of the word 'rape'. Despite being derived from the Latin rapere this seems to me to be a modern word. I wondered whether these peoples would have another way of describing it. Was the choice of language spoken by the peoples a major part of your considerations in the construction of the story?

 

Margaret says:

Yes, I thought a lot about language. We don’t have a clue what language Mesolithic people in Scotland (or, indeed, anywhere) spoke. There are no voices from that time at all. I aimed at a language that used short words rather than long (in English, usually Anglo-Saxon – but, as you have observed, not always - rather than Latinate) and short sentence structure, but I allowed my people to be rich in imagery. Most hunter gatherer peoples are great story tellers, and it’s likely that these Mesolithic people would have been sophisticated in simile and metaphor. I reckon they would have been pretty straight talkers too, not given to euphemism. If rape existed – and sad to say it’s not only a modern phenomenon - then I think they’d have a dead straight word for it – like ‘rape’. I don’t think the English language offers anything clearer than that.

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To answer your question Barblue I think it was because his name wasn't going to live on. Is that right Margaret?

 

Margaret says:

 

Yes, that’s just about it. Basajaun, though not everyone’s cup of tea, has changed status through becoming part of the hunt. He has been hunted as if he were an animal – in fact he’s taken on the status of the animal that gives itself. So after his death he’s treated as an animal – with honour and respect. The death of Basajaun isn’t a murder in the eyes of the Auk people – his spirit lives on – just as the hunted animals’ spirit lives on – and as you say, his name will live among the Auk people. But the nameless cousin – the last thing the Auk men want is any part of him to remain to haunt them. They need to wash away every trace of him. It’s immaterial if he’s morally innocent; this isn’t about individual justice. It’s about keeping away bad spirits and protecting the people.

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My question concerns creating the time period. I'm curious about how much research the author did, and was it from visiting the areas she's writing about, or reading scientific evidence about stoneage Scotland?

 

Also, the blurb likens the story to a parable about contemporary climate change. Is that an aspect of the story that the author was conscious of as she was writing?

 

Margaret says:

 

I wasn’t thinking about contemporary climate change when writing the story, but I was deeply interested in how hunter gatherer peoples relate to their environment. The further I got into it, the more I respected their way of doing things. Perhaps subliminally I was writing out of frustration about the mess we’re making in comparison to them, but I didn’t plan a parable. Probably the last person you should ask about authorial intention is the author!

 

Regarding your first question: yes, I did loads of research. I always find that a very satisfying part of the process. I read all I could about Mesolithic studies, and went on two Mesolithic digs in Scotland. I read other did reports, form England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, for example, of Mesolithic discoveries far more extensive than any remains we have in Scotland. I’ve always enjoyed practical archaeology, though I’m not an archaeologist. I also went to all the places where my characters go – not so difficult as with some novels I’ve written, as it’s mainly located on the west coast of Scotland and the inner Hebrides, apart from the tsunami on the east coast and the journey west in Chapter 2. I studied lots of ethnographic parallels – other hunter gatherer societies in historical times. I drew on my own travels among the Inuit and Sami peoples. I also did quite a bit of hands-on research – making a coracle for example, and paddling it. I talked to hunters, stalkers, wildfowlers, bee keepers, basket makers, flint knappers etc etc. I really enjoy that part of it. I also read as much as I could about shamanistic religions, which are strongly associated with hunter gatherer societies.

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Did you ever feel frustrated by the lack of concrete evidence as to how your characters lived and communicated or did you simply feel that, as an author, this allowed you more freedom to create a fictional world?

 

Margaret says:

 

At first I was drawn to the great gap of silence that surrounds Mesolithic Scotland – no voices, no records, and precious little evidence. But as with all subjects, the more you look, the more you find out. Mesolithic experts have amassed much more evidence than most people guess. Having said that – yes, there are great gaps. And as a novelist you have to fill them in – you can’t say “There was a character but we have no idea what her name was. We don’t know who her family were, or where she lived, or what she ate for breakfast. I have no idea what she thought about.” You’ve got to commit yourself, but my aim is to make the made-up bits as likely as possible, and that’s what the research is all for.

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I'd like to thank Margaret on behalf of BGO for taking the time to provide these answers and to engage so positively with her readers. It is greatly appreciated and I have no doubt will encourage others who visit the site to try this book.

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