Wednesday, 23 February 2000

Paul Kearney: The Way to Babylon (1992)

Edition: Gollancz, 1992
Review number: 443

Paul Kearney's first novel was an impressive debut. It tackles a theme at the centre of the fantasy genre, the relationship between fiction and the real world. Michael Riven is a successful fantasy author, two thirds of the way through a trilogy whose background is drawn from the mountains he loves on Skye. Then a climbing accident leaves his wife dead and Michael severely injured. Unable to bring himself to write more, he receives visitors at his cottage who take him climbing once again (hiring him as a guide) - and he suddenly finds himself in the world of his trilogy. There, since the death of Jenny Riven, the land has been suffering from permanent winter and attacks by monsters; a clear reflection of Michael's grief. So what is the connection between Miniguish and our world? How does Riven relate to his creation (and in what sense did he create a world with a history going back years before he thought of it)? Is he really in another world, or has he been driven made by the death of his wife?

The agonising about the reality or otherwise of Riven's experience is of course reminiscent of Stephen Donaldson's first novel, Lord Foul's Bane (and it continued to be a major part of the whole Thomas Covenant series). Donaldson explores the theme at greater length and correspondingly greater depth; his treatment is also pessimistic in tone. Kearney's lighter novel is none the less interesting, and Riven is a developed character whose grief seems to have real meaning.

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