The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace

The Gift of StonesFrom whispering muse to the gift of stones, this was the second book I read in 2016, one of Jim Crace’s earlier philosophical works, telling the tale of a village of stone workers, who live a simple life working stone into weapons, which are then traded with passers-by for food and other essentials, which they are not able to provide for themselves, in the arid landscape within which they reside. It is a livelihood they think little about, it is all they know.

A boy’s destiny is changed after he is injured in the arm by an arrow. The arrow is a symbol of change and both opens and closes this short, though provoking novella.

The injury becomes a turning point for a boy, his arm partially amputated, making him unable to follow in the village tradition, he must find another way of contributing to his community. His predicament is a foretelling of what is to come, but first he alone must learn to adapt.

He ventures outside, further from the village than anyone has ever been, near the sea and the heath, bringing them tales of beyond, discovering the allure and power of imagination. Experiencing things and feelings he has never encountered.

Already an orphan living with his uncle in a stone age village of people who work with flint, his injury turns him into a storyteller, inspired by his walks along the coastline towards the heath where he meets a woman with her baby living alone in a hut. He discovers how to captivate and amuse an audience, to take their minds off their day-to-day torments.

‘The paradox is this – we do love lies. The truth is dull and half-asleep. But lies are nimble, spirited, alive. And lying is a craft.’

He brings the woman back to the village, however she isn’t welcomed by the villagers, set in their ways. She too symbolises the lessons they must learn, though they will realise this much too late. When he tells the villagers her history, a truth, they become bored and turn away.

‘Quite soon they found it far too dark and cold to listen to my father any lore. They peeled away before the tale was done, unmoved by my father’s portrait of the widow and her child on the heath, her struggles not to die, her hardships, grief and hunger, the slaughter of the geese, the crushing of her hut. Quite soon there were no cousins left to hear my father’s tale. His audience – excluding bats and mother – had crept away, unamused and angered by the venom in his voice.

My father stood alone and startled – for now he understood the power of the truth.’

flint arrow head

It is a philosophical tale of unrequited love, abandonment, survival and the heralders of change, how communities react to the necessity to adjust, and to those who are different, outsiders.

It touches on the role of imagination and storytelling, not just as entertainment and a craft, but as those who foresee change, create invention, imagine other ways of life.

Poignant and intriguing, given the era within which it is set and a kind of tribute to the greater importance of storytelling within society.

 

20 thoughts on “The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace

  1. I have never heard of this book but it does sound quite intriguing. Crace tends to take fascinating approaches to the subjects he chooses to explore. I’ve read Quarantine and Harvest, each very different in subject matter but unforgettable.

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    • They both sounds interesting, I should like to read them too, this was a pleasant introduction to his style of writing, which I’d thought might be my kind of thing. I listened to him speak during the lead up to the Booker Prize event in 2013, there was an online live event broadcast from the South Bank Centre and he was interesting to listen to as well. He was threatening to give up novel writing and produce a play, so I wonder what will be next from him?

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  2. I’ll second Ali’s recommendation of Crace’s Harvest. It was a hit with my group when we read it a couple of years ago, plus it gave rise to a very interesting discussion on the moral questions raised by the story. I’d never heard of The Gift of Stones until your post appeared in my reader but it sounds excellent. Crace seems to have a real talent for portraying these rural communities – the same is true of Harvest.

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    • I remember that Harvest was the bookies and the BBC favourite to win, so it garnered a lot of publicity at the time, I probably would have read it then, if it had, but dove into The Luminaries instead! I shall be looking out for a copy of Harvest though.

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  3. Have you read Harvest Claire? I loved it ….timeless and haunting . The sort of book you think about for ages after you’ve finished it . It’s the only Crace I’ve read , I really must read more .

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  4. Pingback: The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace | B. Y. O. Book Club

  5. I’ve come to Crace’s work quite late. I think that perhaps he was too philosophical for me to appreciate until recently. I don’t know this book, but can very much recommend ‘Harvest’ which should have walked away with the Booker and did win the Impac award last year.

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    • He seems to be at the height of his literary powers at present, I didn’t find this one too philosophical, even though it is an early work. A lot of the reviews seem to read much greater philosophical meaning into it than I found, I found his reflections on storytelling, the craft of oral narrative and imagination rather humorous in fact.

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