Gráinne, by Keith Roberts

Second paragraph of third chapter:

There is sound, somewhere; a deep humming, on the threshold of audibility. Closer at hand his ears record the tiny rustlings of the girl’s blue robe. She rolls away the metal breakfast tray, sets dishes in the one small sink. The circular port or window high above him admits a beam of intense yellow light. She glances up, reaches to a wall panel. She touches a button and a green-gold filter slides across. It’s like an eyelid somehow; the nictitating membrane of a bird or cat. That memory though is still precise. He’s sitting in an aeroplane. Below him, turquoise, is minutely-wrinkled sea; ahead, a ragged green and yellow coast. It’s Ireland. The wing dips steeply; a grinding double clunk sounds as the undercarriage locks.

One of those books that I really enjoyed reading, but can’t quite explain why. The whole thing is told as flashback by the narrator, possibly undergoing psychiatric treatment; Gráinne is his former lover, his challenge and his inspiration for moving from a Middle England upbringing to creative heights inspired by Celtic myth; there is some social commentary along the way, but the real point is how the narrator/protagonist achieves his full creative powers through interaction with the entrancing Other.

I’ve seen a couple of reviewers stating that this is all about the relationship between Ireland and England. It’s not really; it’s driven by changing English perceptions of Ireland and Celtic heritage (as my excerpt above demonstrates). And that’s all right; but don’t claim it for more than it is.

This won the BSFA Award for 1987. Next in my motley sequence of award winners is George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, which beat Gráinne for the 1988 Arthur C. Clarke Award.