Friday, 28 March 2008

From My Bookshelf... 'Tailchaser's Song' - Tad Williams

This isn't so much a review, more of a 'shout out' to an old favourite of mine ;o)
In the late eighties/early nineties I'd just started reading Tad Williams' 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' series. After a very slow start, 'The Dragonbone Chair' really caught my imagination and I can remember one Christmas where all I wanted to do was read 'The Stone of Farewell', in my opinion the best book in the series (stupid family games of Monopoly getting in the way!) I got to the end of 'The Stone of Farewell', for maybe the second or third time, and realised that there was going to be no new adventures of Simon, Binabik and co. for a long time to come (for a good year at least) What was I going to do? And that was when I realised that the 'By the same author' page was about to come in very useful in deed... I had a choice between 'Tailchaser's Song', 'Caliban's Hour' and 'Child of an Ancient City'. 'Tailchaser's Song' won simply because it had the coolest sounding name! I'm writing this at work (naughty ol' me!) so today you get a 'copy and paste synopsis'... (thank you Wikipedia!)

Fritti Tailchaser, a young ginger tom cat sets out to stray from his home and clan, the Meeting Wall Clan, in search of his catfriend Hushpad after strange disappearances of the Folk have been reported. He and the kitten Pouncequick set out on a long journey to visit the Court of Harar with the intention of finding out the mystery of the disappearances--a journey that will take them to cat Hell and beyond.

At this time, the only 'animal books' I'd read were 'Wind in the Willows' and 'Watership Down'. While I'd quite happily defend these books as 'classics', what spoiled them for me (a bit) was that the animals involved came across as very human and 'British' in their both their outlook and mannerisms. Tad went in a different direction and made his cats so 'animal-like' that they were almost alien as far as I was concerned. I'll still say that if you want to read a book where animals act as animals then 'Tailchaser's Song' is a good place to start.
'Tailchaser's Song' was Tad Williams' debut novel and does look a little rough around the edges when you compare it to his later works, in some ways it's almost like a 'work in progress' where he is experimenting with ideas that he will use more fully later on (in particular his fascination with the art of storytelling and its influence on society). The story has plenty of twists and turns but does appear simplistic at times, what saves it (and makes it a favourite of mine) is the characterisation and worldbuilding that Tad employs. A lot of thought seems to have gone into what makes the characters tick and they always act accordingly, any aberrations always occur with the story in mind. The journey that Tailchaser embarks upon is a device for character development but also serves as a vehicle by which Tailchaser's world becomes known to the reader. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to a journey you would make yourself, where more and more detail becomes apparent the further you go. Tailchaser has never seen the outside world before so we get to share his sense of wonder as well as experiencing our own.
'Tailchaser's Song' is the ideal solution if you want to read something by Tad Williams that isn't a multi-volume epic, it's everything that I love about his work but it's a bite size chunk rather than a three course meal ;o)


Chris, The Book Swede said...

Guess what book I'll be reading?! ;) This has been on my "need to read" pile for a while; thanks for the prompt!

Tia Nevitt said...

I loved this novel; it is my favorite by Tad Williams, and I've read many of his novels. Chris, I can highly recommend it as well. I also have to mention the cat mythology in this novel--very well thought out!

I think I lent my copy to a cat-loving friend of mine--and never got it back!

Peta said...

I've been so focused on looking forward to the release of the full Shadowmarch trilogy that it's not occurred to me to look at pre-Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books... What an idiot! I shall buy this and thanks for the tip!

Sara J. said...

I read this book so long ago that I barely remember it, but I keep meaning to go back to it again. When my cousin and I were younger, we actually created a whole imaginary world around this book that we partly lived in it one summer...

I'm not sure it would stand up over time for me, but there're definitely a lot of good memories attached... :)

ThRiNiDiR said...

I'm a big fan of Tad's Otherland series,but didn't really get into MS&T (I guess I missed the proper age train). Tailchase's Song is a book I want to read sometimes in the future - but for the moment my to-read pile is just too damn big to squeeze it in there :/