Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: Seaward (Update)

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Seaward
Author: Susan Cooper

Author's web page:
Date: 1983
Publisher: Atheneum (hardcover), Simon & Schuster (paperback)
ISBN: 0-02-042190-7
Length: 167 pages
Quote: “Nothing is black and white, Westerly, in this long game we play.”
It’s a fantastic adventure quest: two teenagers running together through a surreal alternative world where anything may happen except life-as-usual. Blurbs on both the hardcover and the paperback edition specify that they come from different countries and speak different languages, in the everyday reality of the story; we’re never told which countries those are, although the girl identifies with an old myth from Scotland or Shetland. In the alternative reality of the story they can talk to each other. Both of them have English names, which become vaguely ominous in the context of the story: Westerly is going west and Cally is a phonetic version of a Gaelic word for “old woman”; Death is calling to these kids.
They do not fall in love. It’s not that kind of story. Both have recently lost their parents, and their adventures seem to be inspired, vaguely, by the idea of grief as a journey. A superhuman male figure who seems to represent life, or resurrection, or reincarnation, claims their allegiance in the alternative world. A superhuman female figure who seems to represent death, or a permanent death, a Great Sleep, tries to get them away from her brother. Nothing is black or white; neither figure will consent to be identified with good or evil. Lugan, named after the mythical ancestor-god of London, is gold and radiant. Taranis, named after a mythical god of thunder, is blue and usually quiet. It’s all a game to them; both offer death in the end.

The story is certainly imaginative, lively, and well written, but if read as anything more than a fantastic adventure—if chosen for the comfort to the bereaved its symbolism seems to offer—it’s not particularly comforting. Cooper, a specialist in British folklore, here seems to be trying to offer a British Pagan alternative to English Christian beliefs about life and death.

However, Cally and West are not dying in this story. They're grieving, and along the way they're having adventures, coming of age, testing their strength, and even helping other characters. It's possible to enjoy just going along with them for the ride.

Seaward is a Fair Trade Book. As usual, to buy it from salolianigodagewi @ you send $5 for the book, $5 for shipping; you pay only one $5 shipping charge for as many books as fit into one package. Living authors or the charities of their choice receive 10% of the total price you pay for Fair Trade Books, including shipping. I'm delighted to repost this review with Susan Cooper's assistant's comment, the first comment we've received that specifies a charity:

"If you'd like to add Seaward to the list, we certainly approve, and the charity could be Reading is Fundamental."

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