I steadfastly tried to ignore the hype about La Belle Sauvage for two reasons. I didn’t want anything to distract me from the progress of the MA, and I didn’t want my mind clouded by others’ opinions. I managed to hold out until it was parcelled up for Christmas, and over two days I devoured Pullman’s latest. In short, I loved it.
La Belle Sauvage, I’m told, isn’t necessarily a prequel (from a friend who heard Pullman speak about the book in Bath), and by that, he probably means that you don’t need to know His Dark Materials to read it. It is undoubtedly connected, in character and theme.
La Belle Sauvage tells the story of Lyra (the protagonist of His Dark Materials) as a baby, and how she is revered and protected. It is La Belle Sauvage’s protagonist, the eleven year-old Malcolm Polstead who is her protector. The book is in two parts, the first narrates Malcolm’s world, and the second is pure adventure, as Malcolm is thrown into rescuing Lyra; he embarks on a journey to keep the young baby safe. This second part, The Flood, is a cantering read, with encounters in different realms of magical realism. The worlds that Pullman creates are wonderful and vivid. They are all remarkable, but my particular favourite was the strange place where people drift around in lost memory.
Pullman’s protagonist is a wholly likeable young lad. Malcolm is dutiful and considerate, with emotional intelligence, and a touching affection for the babe-in-arms, little Lyra. He also proves himself to be feisty and determined. His adventuring companion is Alice, the kitchen hand at his parents’ pub (The Trout). Their developing friendship is well-drawn, and plausible. There is something of the older-Lyra in Alice, although they are not connected (or do not seem to be).
Pullman’s chief villain, the despicable Gerard Bonneville is truly menacing. Like most perpetrators, he seems charming, but is not. You know Bonneville is bad news because of his daemon, a hideous three-legged hyaena.
Pullman’s themes are daring, and challenging, which made me question what the target readership is. There are scenes that verge on the explicit – not in content, but in idea. Malcolm observes a sexual encounter (of man and his daemon), and there is a near-rape (of Alice). Pullman also pokes at religion, consistent with His Dark Materials, with nuns and religious zealots who feature throughout the book.
La Belle Sauvage is a highly engaging, gripping read. Pullman has not let this reader down, and I eagerly await the next instalments of this trilogy.
17 January 2020 at 10:00
Thank you Julia, That was my recap for La Belle Sauvage. I am about to embark on The Secret Commwealth, vol two of the saga with a third to follow !!!!
Unfortunately, I am having to read The Light Years for a book club and I just cannot get into it!!! It is well written etc., but I suppose not my genre……. your comments on the book will be very helpful!!
Best wishes for 2020
21 January 2020 at 17:09
I’m about 2/3 through The Secret Commonwealth, and it’s good… very good! I’m sorry you haven’t found your way into The Light Years, but happy to have helped in some way. Maybe I should start up my book reviews again. It did make me think more carefully. Best wishes to you too!