Not Just For Children – Alan Garner: 13 – Where Shall We Run To

Where shall we run to

Originally, I didn’t intend to feature this book, no more than I did The Voice That Thunders, a collection of essays and lectures that is absolutely fascinating but which is neither a novel nor fiction. The same applies to Where Shall We Run To?, sub-titled ‘A Memoir’. It too is a book of discrete sections and is not fiction, yet it deserves consideration on a par with Alan Garner’s work.
It’s not strictly a Memoir, but if it’s not that I don’t know how better to describe it. The book confines itself to the first phase of Garner’s childhood, covering the War years. It’s another Alan Garner, the little boy who fit perfectly into the small compass of the world in which he was born, the world of his family, their friends and neighbours, and his friends with whom he grew up. It ends with his leaving his primary school, having taken the Eleven Plus Examination even though he had already won a Scholarship to attend Manchester Grammar School, the event that would change his life by removing him from home and family and place.
The pieces here follow a rough chronological order, though each one is contemporary to its moment and moments. Only in the way they succeed each other does time pass, silent and invisible.
What Garner has done that makes this book so astounding is that he is not recalling but reliving. As he talks, in simple, clear, lucid prose that sets up no barriers between the boy Alan and the reader, is to be his younger self, be absorbed completely into his head. No adult thoughts, no mature censorship is allowed to interfere. It is astonishing how completely the adult Garner vanishes.
Though everything that happens, except Garner’s removal to Monsall Hospital for months of pain and illness, takes place in and around Alderley Edge ā€“ the village, the Hough, the Edge ā€“ and Garner’s childhood is twenty years and twenty miles distant from mine, they are the same. Once you see past the specifics, his childhood is the same as mine in an East Manchester back street terrace. Everything he describes rings with that recognition, even the things he did and saw and I did and saw something different.
He has put the boy he once was so perfectly down in print that we all can be him, and this is all the greater an achievement because Alan Garner was severed from himself a very long time ago and has crossed that divide back into his own head as if it all took place yesterday: is still happening.
So, yes, it stands alongside the fictions Garner has made of the land in which he is historian, stranger, fabulist, exile and commonborn. It is, like everything else he has written, a true story, and a true telling.

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