David Collard

The Meaning of Light

A Field Guide to Reality

By Joanna Kavenna

Riverrun 237pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The many faux naif illustrations by Oly Rafe that accompany Joanna Kavenna’s text suggest A Field Guide to Reality is aimed at the young-adult fiction market, but this intelligent, engaging and sometimes confusing novel will appeal to a more mature readership.

The narrative jumps between 13th-century Oxford and the present day, although the modern city is enveloped much of the time in a mist that eliminates topographical detail. The main character, Eliade Jencks, has little contact with university life until she inherits a box from an academic friend that is believed to have once contained his magnum opus, the Field Guide to Reality (surely a nod to Edward Casaubon’s Key to all Mythologies in Middlemarch). She sets out to find the missing work, and what follows is a sophisticated and occasionally opaque roman des idées, part Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, part Gulliver’s Travels.

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