Thu, Jan 25, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Book review: Love in the time of death

‘The Ferryman,’ the first in a trilogy of novels by Claire McFall, tells the story of a young adult who travels to the netherworld and falls in love

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

THE FERRYMAN, by Claire McFall.

The story behind this book makes for good news for Taiwan, though when I started reading it the reverse seemed to be the case. Let me explain.

The Ferryman is a novel for young adults written by a school teacher from Peebles in southern Scotland. It has had a certain amount of success in her native Scotland, though less so south of the border in England. But where it has really taken off is in China, where it has assumed the stature of another Harry Potter book. Over a million copies have been sold there, and its sequel, Trespassers, has proved equally popular. Both books have been in the Chinese best-selling fiction charts for many months. The author has already visited the country on a book-signing tour and was astonished by the enthusiasm she encountered.

The translation, of course, is in China’s simplified script, and all seems set for an even bigger success when the books, plus a third still being written, are filmed by Legendary Entertainment, responsible for such successes as Godzilla and Pacific Rim, in both English and Chinese versions.

Meanwhile, what about Taiwan, with its traditional Chinese script? As I say, originally I thought it was missing out on a phenomenon that could equal Harry Potter’s extraordinary success. But the news has just arrived that Taipei’s Yuan-Liou Publishing (遠流出版公司) has now secured the rights, and a version of The Ferryman in unreformed characters will be appearing in Taiwan in the second half of this year.

So, what kind of a book is it? It’s the story of a 15-year-old Scottish girl, Dylan, who lives, not very happily, with her peevish and interfering mother. One day she sets off by train to meet her father for the first time, but in the middle of a tunnel something happens. Everything goes black, and Dylan crawls out into the daylight to find no evidence of any of the other passengers. All she can see is a boy sitting on a grassy bank looking at her.

Publication Notes

THE FERRYMAN

By Claire McFall

294 pages

Kelpies Edge

Paperback: UK


This boy, she discovers, is called Tristan, and he quickly informs her that she has died, and that he is her ferryman, appointed to lead her across a wasteland to the border of the afterlife. And so it is that they set off, beleaguered by hostile wraiths who attempt to snatch at Dylan and drag her down into a distinctly uncongenial nether-world. They find safety, however, at night (the only time the wraiths are able to emerge) in a series of safe houses, and finally arrive at their destination.

In the meantime, however, Dylan and Tristan have fallen in love. Tristan has ferried thousands of souls along this same route and insists he cannot cross over with Dylan to where she is going. Eventually, though, he says that at least he’ll try.

It’s about half way through the book that Dylan crosses over to the land beyond the veil. But to her horror, Tristan isn’t there with her. She eventually seeks out one of Tristan’s former charges, a young man who was a Nazi officer during World War II, who Tristan says was the most saintly person he’d ever met. He’d met his death when he refused to shoot the inmate of a concentration camp he’d been assigned to. This is a fine example of the unpredictability of Claire McFall’s imagination.

Idyllic though this otherworld seems, Dylan wants nothing more than to be reunited with Tristan. The former German officer advises her that any return is universally regarded as impossible, though he hints there are ways she might try to achieve it.

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