Thursday, September 06, 2007

Whale sandwich

Stephen Moss profiles Michelle Paver at the Guardian. Somehow I have never gotten around to reading these books, but I think I must:
Paver's series is the everyday story of boy meets wolf. The central character is Torak, a 12-year-old who is orphaned when his father is killed by a bear. The books follow his struggle to survive, aided by a faithful wolf and a girl called Renn, in a hostile environment - Paver's vision of northern Scandinavia circa 6,000 BC - and faced by a complex clan system that rejects him. Rarely has an adolescent faced such a tortuous rite of passage, and Paver accepts that, four books in, poor Torak must be a psychological wreck.

Since she insists on getting as close as possible to what Torak has to go through, Paver herself seems remarkably level-headed. She has made journeys across Scandinavia and into the mountains and forests of central Europe in her quest for authenticity, swum with killer whales, peered into the mouth of a large brown bear, and eaten elk heart and fish eyes. I'm quite pleased to be having a coffee with her in a cafe in Wimbledon, south London, where she lives, rather than a whale sandwich and goblet of elk blood in a windswept bar in Spitzbergen.

Paver's wanderings reflect her desire to present as accurate a picture of the stone age as possible. "There's no message in these books at all," she says, "but regarding hunter-gatherers as the Flintstones is something I hope I will have changed a little bit. Dramatic reconstructions of the stone age on TV usually have them running around with awful, rough clothes flapping open in sub-zero temperatures, and they are all unshaven, with messy hair. I don't think it was like that because they wouldn't have survived - Eskimos and Inuit have very carefully engineered and highly sophisticated clothes. Indigenous people all over the world take quite a lot of trouble with their hair and their clothes."
Hmmm, today's one of those days when I kind of wish I lived in the stone age...

[ED. AFTERTHOUGHT. My stone-age self is probably working to a tight deadline on a very large and complicated wall painting and wasting the early-morning hours brewing up another pot of some sort of bark tea, doing the stone-age equivalent of reading the literary news online and resolving to give up stimulants temporarily once the project is finished...]

1 comment:

  1. As you know, my daughters are great readers. I bought Cathy the first Michelle Paver book, but she just was not interested. Now Jenny is about the right age for it (I think? She's just 12), but she doesn't seem thrilled either.

    What are they reading? Cathy (16)is currently loving Rebecca (which we saw dramatised on our recent holiday in the Lake District) and Jenny is devouring The Roman Mysteries, a series by Caroline Lawrence - she's keen on Latin, Pompeii and things Roman.