by Paraic O’Donnell
– an advance review for a book due to be published on 11th February 2016.
The very strange tale of Mr Crowe, his mute ward Clara, his powerful adversaries and his loyal servant Eustace. Told almost entirely from Eustace’s point of view, The Maker of Swans is Gothic, dark, strange – when is it set? At times it feels like the distant past, at others, very contemporary (and this is explained in the conclusion – a delightful surprise). Mr. Crowe appears to be a very rich man. He lives a peculiar and isolated life in his castle with Clara, Eustace, a few retainers, a girlfriend of sorts. There’s a powerful thread of fantasy woven through, an odd magic centred around the mute girl Clara and her love of writing and Mr. Crowe’s library which she knows intimately.
The language is poetic – sometimes rather densely so, making or a difficult read. Sometimes the words dance on the page with passages like, “we must visit Debussy… You have never heard music, Eustace, until you have heard him. It is made of starlight and of first kisses. It seems scarcely to belong to our world.”
It is extremely slow to get going. I almost gave up on it around page 100; the rich density of language coupled with the oddness of the tale and the fact that the story is exceptionally slow moving made it very hard going for a good third of its length. It does begin to pick up steam around the time that Clara is abducted (I hope that’s not a spoiler. I don’t think so, since she is a prisoner for most of the tale). I enjoyed it very much from this point on, but I suspect the dreadful slowness of the start will put off a good many readers. And so much remains unexplained – frustratingly so. Why the swans – they only appear twice but they are in the title and are obviously significant. And Clara: who is she? What is her point and purpose in the lives of Mr. Crowe and Eustace? I’m clearly missing something – lots of things. I assumed Clara’s story would be the point of the story and all would be revealed and it never was and I found this inexcusable and fantastically annoying! But the book is full of puzzles – the names of the sections, for example, and some anagram – I probably haven’t figured it all out yet. It is complex, slippery, full of uncertainly; a book that I would guess really needs more than one read to really understand quite what is going on.There’s a strong sense of Gormenghast in this novel, and a meddling with time and space that is almost Whovian at times. There’s a delicious twist (in the origins of Mr. Crowe) that I adored – but even this is not brought out on a platter, you have to think; you have to work at it. I’m inclined to think this book may be altogether too much work for some readers but for those willing to make the effort, this book offers huge rewards.