Kate Thompson on a gripping and disturbing read…
The Eclipse of the Century by Jan Mark
I couldn’t have, though. The book arises, it seems to me, from an imaginative source which I would not know where to find. It is an exhibition of creative originality at its most powerful, and the images from it remain with me in the way my own dreams do.
When Keith has a near-death experience the place he glimpses is not in the next world. It is in this one, but only just. Qantoum, when Keith finds it, is an ancient capital, abandoned by all but an eccentric collection of misfits. Its crumbling municipal buildings and its maze of tiny alleys provide a refuge of sorts, but it is a precarious one. On its outskirts a nomadic tribe, the Sturyat, have made a permanent camp, waiting for the return of their stolen soul-stones. Their moral code is unclear and may, in fact, be non-existent, and their brooding presence creates a constant, disquieting backdrop.
The vividly drawn characters haunt me to this day – Kijé, the folk-dancing soldier, Lady Hooke, the forgetful sand widow, Zayu, the unpredictable Sturyat girl – all are enigmatic, all potentially dangerous. Occasional moments of brilliant humour alleviate the tension, but be prepared for a gripping and disturbing read.
The Eclipse of the Century by Jan Mark is now out of print.
Kate Thompson’s latest book is The New Policeman (The Bodley Head, 0 370 32823 X, £10.99 hbk, Red Fox, 0 09 945627 3, £5.99 pbk) which won the Whitbread Children’s Books Award.