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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

PRE-SCRIPT Madeline Mayne, The Lord Sun (Macmillan) £8.95

There are perhaps two tribes of romantics - Utopians who look forward to a perfect future and Edenites who longingly look back to a lost age when man walked in harmony with the natural world. The appeal of pre-history is strong - there is so little evidence, so little we can know before man found it possible to fix the transient spoken word in script or symbol, and what archaeologists can deduce lends itself to so many differing interpretations that the imagination is less trammelled than when it is dealing with recorded history.

A pre-historian can show artefacts or monuments. We can visit tombs where there were skulls or charred bones or the results of violent death. There is clear evidence of the clothes people wore, of what they ate, which animals they hunted, where they farmed. But as we see them bury their dead or sow the wheat we can hear nothing. We can never know the phrases they used or the songs they sang. They are permanently on the other side of a wall of silence.

Madeline Mayne has imagined words for her cave-dwellers. They communicate immediate ideas, sudden observations - delight, fear, play, a hunt, a forest fire. There is not much dialogue in her book; she is more concerned to narrate what she believes was their attitude to the world. And, at its best, her taut, necessary language evokes the precision with which the everyday is known - a stone, a ...


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