Ingenious genre-crossing

snowscape

Jill Rowan The Legacy Snowbooks 2011

Folktales and ballads often recount the fantasy of a fairy abduction or visit to the Otherworld where both reality and time are suspended until the human visitor returns to their own world. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court gave this trope a time-travel twist by using the story as a means of satirising contemporary mores, perceptions and attitudes. Jill Rowan has given this by now well-worn motif a further twist: her protagonist, Fallady Galbraith, visits a kind of fairyland (the late 18th century), leading her to re-appraise her personal philosophy, her perceptions of life lived then and her attitudes to class, gender issues, education and love. How she copes with the possibility that she mayn’t return to 2008 while yet enamoured of her ‘fairy lover’, a country parson, is the mainspring of the plot and the conflict she has to resolve.

I liked the idea too that the Otherworld (whatever form it takes) involves passing through a metaphysical No Man’s Land, symbolised by the story being set in the Welsh Marches in a ruined village which is, in a sense, neither England or Wales, and that this inbetween-state allows one the opportunity to observe the peculiarities of either side of the divide, whether in language, class, gender politics or urban as opposed to rural life.

I’m not the first to see this as an ingenious genre-crossing novel: there are elements not only of romance but also of a comedy of errors, historical observation, the supernatural, science fiction and fantasy, and this mix makes this an unusual but also strangely satisfying debut novel. Strictly speaking I would be surprised at an eighteenth-century country parson’s relative liberalism, but this is a minor criticism when balanced against a very readable narrative. Of necessity slow to start with, the novel picks up pace and becomes a real page-turner once Fallady’s acceptance of a possible permanent life in the past is established. Jill Rowan has transformed her modern take on the Visit to the Otherworld into a contemplation of what matters most in life, and her conclusion is that it is loving relationships.

But don’t assume this is a one-dimensional historical romance; like Twain, Rowan gives the novel added richness by her willingness to suggest contentious notions: is there really a God, is there such a thing as Destiny, and is there intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe? But like a good author she doesn’t allow you to presume that the views of her protagonist Fallady are merely those of an alter ego, with a ‘message’ to impart; after all, this is fiction. And a jolly good read it is.

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10 thoughts on “Ingenious genre-crossing

    1. I applied for a review copy when it was offered on Goodreads, Col, as the premise sounded intriguing; and though I’m not normally partial to romance (however many other genres are thrown in) I found this surprisingly charming and unexpected.

  1. “Strictly speaking I would be surprised at an eighteenth-century country parson’s relative liberalism”.

    The church at that time was extremely liberal in many ways – that is the kind of church that the Wesleys (John and Charles) reacted against when they started to preach outside of the official Anglican Church structure, eventually resulting in the formation of the Methodist Church (which after a couple of centuries took a more liberal turn).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Onesimus; I don’t disagree with what you say at all but it’s my fault that I wasn’t very clear in my use of the word ‘liberal’.

      What I meant to say was not that some Anglican clergy weren’t liberal then as now — the Church of England has generally been a ‘broad church’, encompassing a huge spectrum of approaches from liberal to ultra-conservative — but that Walter, Fallady’s 18th-century lover, is for me surprisingly accepting of her ways and 21st-century views: methinks he would have protested more.

      But then this is a romance, and while the path to their loving relationship doesn’t run smooth, Walter is more a Mr Darcy than a Mr Collins.

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