Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis

In a thin place, according to legend, the membrane separating this world from the spirit world is almost nonexistent. The small New England town of Varennes is such a place, and Kathryn Davis transports us there - revealing a surprising pageant of life as, in the course of one summer, Varennes' tranquillity is shattered by the arrival of a threatening outsider, worldly and otherworldly forces come into play, and a young local girl finds her miraculous gift for resurrecting the dead tested by the conflict between logic and wish.
Goodreads Description

This was an interesting read and reminded me of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Like Bradbury's novel this is a magic realist account of life in small town over a short period of time. Don't let the description fool you: this novel has a slow and gentle start and it isn't until the last few chapters that life in the town is threatened. 

Davis weaves a tapestry made up of many threads. Not only does this mean the portrayal of the, sometimes mundane, daily lives of the many residents, but also the lives of animals (local dogs, cats, a beaver, moose) and even lichen. These portrayals are imaginative and insightful. We see the town through the eyes of a dog, and also smell it: Many deer beds and some human pee in a bush and also birds in trees and lots of squirrels too high to eat and then a house. Never a good idea to go too near a house unless you knew the person put out suet. 

At other times Davis steps out of the present day, to a community disaster in the 19th century, which one feels running as a dark current under the local lake. And sometimes she describes the area before human habitation or even as the world was created. On several occasions she talks about Julian of Norwich, and clearly the medieval  Christian mystic has influenced Davis' approach. 

These approaches, as much as Mees' gift for raising the dead, are magic realist, but magic realist in the sense of Roh's definition. 

There will be many readers who will find this book boring and/or confusing. There are so many characters that one is inclined to forget who is who. I at one point had read the first page of a chapter about a character, Margaret, before I remembered that Margaret was a dog! There will be others, myself included, who felt the sudden shift to action and even violence at the end of the book to be jarring. 

So is this poetic book worthy of the comparison with Bradbury's? Despite its quality, I don't think it is in the same league. Bradbury's book may have portrayed a community, but the world was seen through the eyes of a ten-year old boy and that helped provide focus. The Thin Place lacks a centre. Maybe that is what Davis intended - after all it is world of diaphanous layers - but I for one wanted more solidity. 

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