King David Hartley leads a band of Yorkshire menfolk in the dangerous act of clipping (cutting away at legitimate coins and using those clippings to forge new money). It's not something the authorities can allow and men are sent to close down the operation. The Gallows Pole tells us of the history from the point of view of coiner and crown in a way that's gripping from the off.
Cards on the table, I'm a Lancastreen bastid at my core, those early roots strong and impossible to cut through. In spite of that, Jorvikshyre is a special place for me. I spent many happy days and nights visiting my brother when he lived in Hebden Bridge and my in-laws live in Holmfirth where the hills and vales are something to behold.
Perhaps that's why the wonderful descriptions of the landscapes in this book struck me immediately, though I suspect anyone who has spent any time soaking up nature will be bowled over by the poetic musings and the vivid pictures painted in these words. I'm also certain that anyone who hasn't been exposed to the landscapes of the county will be desperate to get out there and soak up the wonder that is to be found there.
The sense of time and place is one of the reasons that this is a stunning novel, but there are many of those and it's difficult to know where to start. Essentially, I don't think I can do it justice and probably don't have the breadth of reading experience or knowledge to offer a coherent review, but I'm going to have a go at picking out some of the things that stood out to me.
Symmetry, reflection and cycles. They feel important. There's the way the seasons roll by and the endless power of nature. The clippers versus the representatives of the crown. The threads that tie generations together. The contrasts of rich and poor. The blurred lines of right and wrong. The passions of the loyal and the traitorous. The circle of the story that begins and ends seamlessly. And sometimes in the structure itself. Early on, for example, there's a hypnotic section that sees the men of the valley arriving for a meeting called up at the Hartley home. Four pages describe their journeys and characters, four pages that are a joy to behold. Later in the book, we have a similar list at a similar gathering, only this time it's the wealthy and the powerful who are coming together. It's a treat to behold.
To have symmetry and reflection you need a centre point. Here the fulcrum is a time of change. The industrial revolution is growing and the old ways will never be the same. Land will be owned and torn up to allow for profit and then to more profit whatever the cost. It allows us to sympathise with the coiners, no matter how hardened and raw their lives, not least because their wealth is shared with the people of the area in a way that it never will be by the owners of mills and factories.
Then there's the poetry of it all.
King David's reflections are inserted regularly in his own voice. It's an old language and dialect that is direct and raw and echoes the toughness of the protagonist and his way of life. There's a little adjustment required to adapt to the words, but it's worth it because of the impact each of the entries brings. To my mind, there's a similarity here with A Clockwork Orange where the dexterity with sound and syllable is captivating. Here and in the rest of the novel, alliteration, rhyme, cadence and onomatopoeia work together to elevate the content and nail emotions, thoughts, tensions and descriptions. Think bastidly dastidly, to coin a phrase.
And the alchemy.
Central to the events, though not often to the fore, is the hooded figure of the forger. A man of mystery who is made up of shadows and visions. I know that the TV adaptation of the book is to come out soon. For me, the perfect casting for the alchemist would be Myers himself. Surely anyone who can string words together to create such a wonderful book as this has magic in his fingertips and in his soul. If any more proof was needed, then creating a work where the outcome of the story is never in doubt from the start, yet manages to conjures up tension that had this reader hanging on every development, is a remarkable achievement in itself.
I'm no expert, but if there's any justice (and I'm not sure whether The Gallows Pole shows us that there is or there isn't), this book is one of those that will outlive the author and be talked about for generations to come. A classic, if you will. A classic and an absolute belter.
Congratulations due to Bluemoose Books for taking this on and for producing one of the finest covers ever.
ps not a book for the fainthearted
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