The Stone Book Quartet


I think The Stone Book Quartet is my favourite Alan Garner novel. It's really a collection of four novellas, each focused on a child of a different generation of a family strikingly similar to Garner's own: he has said that this is his most personal book. In these slim but tightly controlled stories, each taking place over a single day, Garner explores themes of family and history, memory and craft, belonging and loss.

In The Stone Book, Mary's stonemason father takes her up to the stop of the church spire and then deep into the earth to discover a secret painted cave. In Granny Reardun, Mary's son chooses to come a blacksmith rather than a mason, to work with metal instead of stone. In The Aimer Gate, Robert helps with the wartime harvest but alone of the children, can't find a moment of joy or a vocation. Finally, in Tom Fobble's Day, set during the Second World War, William's grandfather (the smith of Granny Reardun) makes William a perfect sledge on his last day of work.

There are echoes and resonances between the four stories. The demolished house from Granny Reardun reappears as rescued rubble in The Aimer Gate. Robert climbs inside the church tower and finds his grandfather's mark hidden in the 'cave' of the belfry. In each generation, there is deep skill and respected mastery. And Alan Garner himself, descended from these craftsmen, has created a homage to them using the tools of his own craft: words.

There are also gaps and mysteries here. No one seems to know what the 'aimer gate' means. Mary, who longed to work in a great house and care for beautiful things, can't afford to care for her own firstborn son. Robert is not drawn to any particular mastery and we don't know what becomes of him; the last tale centres on William and his grandfather, and William's father doesn't even appear. 

Hot on the heels of Underland, it was especially wonderful to read of the ancient painted cave of The Stone Book with its vivid animal scenes, overlapping footprints and handprints, a secret handed down through a single family. Do the later children know of it, or is the secret lost? The broken loom of Mary's uncle becomes William's perfectly balanced sledge four generations later; some knowledge, some possessions, are passed down unknowingly. 

Like the sledge, swift and balanced, sweeping and sure, the product of hand and eye and history, The Stone Book Quartet itself is close to perfection.


  1. This is one of his books I haven’t got around to reading yet. It does sound good, though.

  2. No fantasy in this one, but it's wonderful.