Alan Garner

Harvill Press 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
Loosely based on historical events, Strandloper tells the story of William Buckley, who is transported to Australia, escapes, becomes an Aboriginal law-giver and healer, and returns to England thirty years later. This is a plot with obvious potential, but what Garner does with it is completely original: in Strandloper he has produced one of the most innovative novels in years.

The immediately startling thing about Strandloper is its language. It is dominated by dialogue (and some stream of consciousness) and Garner reproduces a multitude of voices with their colloquial idioms: we begin in the Cheshire countryside, with characters speaking dialect English; on board ship we add to this thieves' cant, Irish brogue, and even Latin; and in Australia words from various Aboriginal languages. Throughout there is repetition of nursery rhymes, chants, and nonsense syllables, which also takes some getting used to. The narration, in unadorned modern English, complements this nicely and has a poetry of its own.

What makes Strandloper really extraordinary, however, is its ethnographic depth. Enmeshing the reader in an alien culture is never easy, but Garner attempts it twice in the one short novel (eighteenth century rural England being in some ways as foreign to the modern reader as Aboriginal Australia). Garner's earlier children's novels demonstrated his affinity for English folklore and myth; in Strandloper he demonstrates an equally impressive feel for Aboriginal culture. Even more ambitiously, he hints at links between the two, at a shared pattern. Hubris would be a reasonable accusation, were it not that he succeeds so well!

This probably makes Strandloper sound unreadable, but that is not the case at all. Once one adapts to its rhythms and its language and the intensity of the engagement it demands, it moves along as compellingly as any mundane thriller could. Though it is finished all too quickly, when the end is reached it is as if five hundred pages rather than two have passed, so much does it hold. Strandloper is definitely out of the ordinary.

May 1996

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- books about Australia + Australian history
- more historical fiction
- books published by Harvill Press
- other "best book" selections
%T Strandloper
%A Garner, Alan
%I Harvill Press
%D 1996
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860461611
%P 200pp