Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Boy and his Canoe


Slipping back into the multiverse of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is like sipping on a warm and soothing cup of English breakfast tea on a rainy afternoon. Readers unacquainted with Pullman's earlier work should not despair, as the events of La Belle Sauvage take place many years before Lyra starts spying on the headmaster of Jordan College in The Golden Compass. If you haven't had the pleasure of meeting Lyra yet, this is a wonderful introduction. As long as stinky baby nappies don't bother you...

This book takes us back to the fictionalized alternate universe of London where Lyra and her deamon Pantalaimon are defenseless babies under the care of nuns. Pullman does a wonderful job of focusing on rolling, pastoral storytelling, while at the same time giving the reader a sense of sweeping events moving just out of sight. We meet Malcolm Polstead, a kind, curious boy who helps out at his family Inn just down the road from the Abby where Lyra is sequestered.

In the first half of the book we find the perfect balance of the mundane and the fantastical. As events propel Malcolm to take the role of guardian to baby Lyra, an otherworldly flood transforms the rural English countryside. Throughout the latter half, the spirit of Conrad's Heart of Darkness winks at us while our heroes are swept down a river in a desperate fight for survival. It is breathless stuff, with just the right seasoning of mysticism and Pullman's signature hook that will pull the reader, wide-eyed through to the other side.