The Australian – June 2
Gavriel Kay’s Tigana
A 10th anniversary edition of Guy Gavriel Kay’s 1990 novel Tigana. Source: Supplied
MY FAVOURITE NOVEL
FROM its opening sentence – a long one, too – I sensed I was embarking on a special journey with Tigana, a fantasy novel by French Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay.
However, the epic nature of the storyline, the setting reminiscent of Italy in the Middle Ages, the fabulously drawn and powerful characterisations aside, this book didn’t just stay with me, it changed me, pushing me on to a new career path.
In that first 50 or so words I learned who, what, when, why and where. Kay conveyed all that information effortlessly and in a sentence that was crafted with such confidence I think I put the book down to take a breath. How did he show me so much in so few words?
You see I was in my mid-30s and just beginning to have the awakening of my own desire to write a novel. But when you experience the work of a craftsman who is clearly a master, it provokes pause because it’s intimidating, often disheartening.
Tigana, first published in 1990, is a magnificently realised fantasy tale (please, please don’t be put off by fantasy novels – just make sure you pick up the good stuff) that reads like historical fiction and could be considered literary in its construction: beautifully written, with a haunting storyline, sparkling characters – each with their own complex motivations – and it constantly surprises.
It elicited heartfelt emotion from this reader. I wept towards the end and now as a writer of novels I understand how hard that is to achieve. This probably is also the only book that compelled me to fling it across the room – because I was so angry at the “twist” that I didn’t see coming.
Tigana lured me back into the world of fantasy that I had left behind as a child – back into the wardrobe you might say – and it provoked a promise. Writing was nagging from the rim of my mind but Kay’s book made it explode to the forefront of my consciousness. I promised myself, having read this rich tale, that I would commit myself to writing a novel from that moment and one that emulated all that I loved about Tigana: an ensemble cast, a richly drawn European-style setting, an emotional journey for the reader, changing readers’ perception of the villain by allowing us to walk in his shoes and, above all, I wanted to deliver a surprising tale that wasn’t predictable.
I was – and still am – daunted by Tigana but I was also fantastically inspired. And the success of my subsequent adult fantasy books (12 and counting) put me into the wonderful position of being able to choose to cross genres.
I may have cut my teeth on fantasy fiction but I wanted to write adventures for everyone: readers from all walks of life. That meant entering the mainstream. So I wrote some crime thrillers and some children’s books while I built the confidence to tackle a big, juicy historical novel.
It took me a decade but in my 10th year of writing I wrote The Lavender Keeper, a World War II adventure set in occupied Paris that was released in March. With its publication I feel as though I have finally hit my stride as a writer and even though it’s a far cry from fantasy, everything I learned from my joy of reading Tigana is deeply embedded in this novel. Thanks, Guy!
Fiona McIntosh’s The Lavender Keeper is published by Penguin.