As I mentioned in the last post, I was at the Book Festival yesterday to hear Lian Hearn talk about her latest book Blossoms and Shadows, set in 1860s Japan, and Susan Fletcher her fourth novel, the recently published The Silver Dark Sea. From the Meiji Restoration and the turbulent, male-dominated world of Japanese society, the end of the Shogunate and the re-establishment of imperial rule, to a fictitious Scottish island in which story-telling is at the heart of everything, and it's a strange kind of flotsam that is washed ashore one day, both books sound like immersive reading experiences crafted by authors with a very sure grasp of their real or imagined worlds.
As a deliberate foil to its cast of feuding men, Lian's book has a woman as its central character - Tsuru, a doctor's daughter, herself medically trained, and based on the real person who inspired Orito in David Mitchell's excellent The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. The narrative alternates between Tsuru's first person, past tense telling, and male characters' third person, present tense episodes, a good way of handling complex material and incorporating multiple points of view. Susan's new novel moves away from her previous books which each told just one person's story; here, in her island setting, she brings in the whole community she has created - "that's a lot of people to have in your head, and sometimes they were very noisy, " she says - but among them she found, as she puts it, "the centre of the flower, all the others being the petals", and she knew she had her focal point. Her book is about storytelling, myth and folklore, and she has given the novel itself an air of make-believe, "wrapped in mystery like a bedtime story." Having loved her last book (there's a post on it here), I was keen to read the new one, and hearing her talk about it doubles that sense of anticipation.
But speaking of the last one, we learned why it had two titles (that is the UK editions) being published first as Corrag and then becoming Witch Light: a bookseller refused to stock it under the original title and so it had to be changed. The audience were quite amazed to hear this, and I'm mystified as to the perceived need for any alteration to the name (which is that of the main character). I asked Mr. C. for his opinion - would either title make him more or less likely to pick up the book in a shop? He said he would certainly pass over something called Witch Light because from that alone he would assume it was a "young adult paranormal romance type of thing", in which case he'd be missing out on what is a very fine novel indeed, and that would be a great pity.