A Castle of Bone


Penelope Farmer is best known for Charlotte Sometimes, a book that inspired The Cure to dawdle gothick chords around it for a song of the same name. (They also wandered a Victorian boarding school in the video, with the curious vacant malaise most of us only get in Morrisons, but which early 80s popstars mustered whenever a camera appeared.) There’s something quite indie about Ms Farmer: her books shoegaze with the best of them.

Head soundly lagged to dull an ear-ache, I’ve just sped through 1974’s  A Castle of Bone. It’s the perfect state to imbibe something like this. There’s a wardrobe that returns things to a former state (and so, when a wallet is lost inside, it returns as the sow that leant it her leather). A fifty-fathoms-deep Greek myth is there too, winding around two sets of brothers and sisters with a perplexity of which Alan Garner would be proud. For a book aimed at ‘young adults’ the psychological detail is intense, and it’s the work unpicking this that makes her books repel any prejudice against fantasy novels.

Like the better examples, A Castle of Bone unsettles by releasing unease into a complacent, everyday world. Here are insolent shopgirls, junk shops plastered with posters for a band called ‘The Stoned Crows’, unliberated 70s housewife/mothers whose children are made awkward by cooler, hipper versions driving battered Renaults in ‘magpie’ clothes. It could be comical, but it’s eery; and as Farmer shuffles the seven ages of life she warns darkly of the shadows of adulthood.

Penelope Farmer, shoegazing


3 thoughts on “A Castle of Bone

  1. Very nice review. A Castle of Bone is a great book – it is the internal view of the relationships between the characters that really makes it feel mature for a young reader.

    I do feel you’re being a little unfair to The Cure (arguably are the force that kept Charlotte in print) Have a look at Penelope Farmers blog post (yes, she has a blog).

    And incidently Robert Smith calls Charlotte Sometimes “The worst video we ever made”, the reason why the band are looking like they’re bored and hating it is because they are.

    Nice blog 🙂

    • I do really like The Cure, it wasn’t meant to put them down… I miss that particular air of deadpan boredom in random situations, that sort of bemusement with the ordinary-dull world. And the song is just great – they really got the book.

      Thanks for dropping by and great you liked it.

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