Daniel Polansky, March’s End (2023)

Author: Daniel Polansky

Title: March’s End

Format: e-book

Pages: ???

Series: –

What review would be better to start the month of March with than a review of March’s End? Polansky’s new book offers his trademark blend of gritty realism and fantastic flights of fancy. It’s casually cruel, in love with the melody of its own language, melancholy and tender at times, but mostly, and always – beautifully, clinically detached.

Polansky is sharp. All sharp edges, short witty remarks, quick, astute observations. I do wonder if he fences; those books of his that I have read certainly remind me of fencing – finding the opponent’s weak spot and lunging, without hesitation or remorse. There is certain urgency in his writing, a particular blend of ruthlessness and vulnerability that demands to be read. I enjoy it; it is rather unique in our times of effusive wordy diarrhoea, of sickly sweetness and hand-holding, back-patting cosiness and hidden feelings of authorial superiority. Yup, Polanski is none of those things, thank goodness. His unique second-person-perspective narrative in The Seventh Perfection made that book one of my favourites of 2020, but March’s End is closer in theme and mood to the novella The Builders

March’s End is a chronicle of four generations of the Harrow family, who during the day live normal suburban lives but at night dream not the American Dream but March – a fantastical land full of strange races and beings, where they rule with an iron fist gloved in velvet. Sacrifice and duty go hand in hand with hereditary privilege; Lewis’s Narnian sketch of the mediaeval concept of a kingdom is utilised here with intriguing results. March is indeed like the barely mapped terrain of our subconscious; the further from the central spire of the Tower, where Harrows rule, the more unreal and improbable creatures, phenomena and features can be found within March. But there is rot in March, too – something dark and corrupting, zombifying everything it touches with unthinking hunger. Even though we nominally meet four generations of Harrows, only one can be truly considered the protagonists: the siblings Constance, Mary Ann, and John. Describing the dysfunctions of this family would take a book on its own; here, their various inadequacies, petty conflicts and resentments, the slow decomposition of familial ties is mapped onto the history of March. Polansky deftly plays with the mediaeval concept of the body politic where king was the microcosmic representation of his kingdom; in this reasoning, the king’s body, his bodily fluids, had a special power dependent on the king’s state – but not only that, the king’s wellbeing was bound with the wellbeing of his kingdom. It is actually a very old concept, present in all those old mythologies and rites where the king was chosen for a year and afterwards slaughtered as a sacrifice to ensure constant virility and wellbeing of his land. Polansky reaches to those, as well, and his March’s End ends up reading at times more like an erudite private play with words and ideas than like a proper fantasy novel.

The fault for this may be put largely at the story itself, which is relatively simple, short and somewhat undemanding. March’s End is a short book, full of descriptions, and busy with jumping between two timelines, trying to cover up the scarcity of the plot with the jumbled fragments of the protagonists’ lives. It ends abruptly, too, after a lengthy buildup everything concludes neatly within a few pages. The characters, with their myriad of dysfunctions and flaws, are hard to like and root for – at least at the beginning. But what March’s End lacks in the narrative department, as well as in character development, it makes up for with the imagination. The fantasy elements here are very strong, even over the top at times. The various life-forms, their biomes and ways of living are depicted with almost childlike enthusiasm, in stark contrast with the descriptions of hte boring, faulty humans. The conversation with the concept and lore of Narnia seems to be at the centre of this novel and informs the plot in interesting, sometimes twisty ways. I can freely admit I like Polansky’s take on the problem of Narnia much better than Grossman’s one – not only is the former much less slavishly attached to Lewis’s formula and structure, but it’s also less childishly malicious when tackling the undeniable influence of this staple of children’s literature. That is not to say that March isn’t suitably darker, grimmer and way more brutal than Narnia – it is, many times over. But Polansky isn’t interested in tearing down Lewis’s Narnian edifice, he’s much more interested in creating his own, with his own host of strange, fantastical creatures, edging boldly into horror territory, playing with words, concepts, and children’s ideas of life, even in – or maybe especially in – inanimate objects.

It’s not a flawless masterpiece, far from it. But it’s enjoyable, erudite, ambivalent and entertaining. It’s an invitation to play along, explore and discuss the ideas, scoff or snort at the alliterations and extravagant words gleefully sprinkled within the text for the pleasure of the writer and the reader both. It’s short, and fairly unique: worth your time.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks. 

Score: 7/10

17 thoughts on “Daniel Polansky, March’s End (2023)

  1. I find it interesting that both “takes” on Narnia end up being filled with people and situations like this. I hated Grossman for what he did in his books, so I’ll be steering clear of this one as well 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grossman’s books were a rip-off, and a malicious one. I disliked them thoroughly. Polansky shows a somewhat more realistic Narnia-esque world where a diversity of creatures with diverse interests doesn’t live in constant harmony and where both worlds have impact on each other – but as in Lewis, the evil is brought from the outside, our world, and has a corrupting power. His book doesn’t try to deconstruct Narnia, or destroy it, but takes a lovingly remembered premise and does something different with it. I guess the thing you’d hate the most would be the exclusion of an Aslan-like figure; but I’d argue that Polansky is aware that humans are imperfect and their imperfection brings suffering to a world where they get power above everything else – so in this case, absence of god doesn’t necessarily mean lack of god. He’s just not there to save the day 😉
      That said, you’d probably still hate it anyway, Bookstooge, so it’s a wise choice! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You summed up very nicely what I despised about Grossman’s writing so much.
        While I still might not read this stuff by Polansky, it is good to know he’s not operating on the same level….

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Maddalena!
      I think you might enjoy this one, too. Polansky has a particular style, so if you already know it works for you I suggest you give this book a go.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! If you loved The Builders, Tammy, then I think you’re in for a treat! 😁 I’ll be looking forward to reading your thoughts on March’s End.


    1. Always glad to be of service, Jeroen! 😊

      Out of curiosity, which three Narnia books do you count as first? Is Magician’s Nephew among them or not? That’s my favorite Narnia book 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No I’ve read The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Threader. I think. I’m not sure. I’m not sure I have the fortitude to continue with them either, but if you say that there is some good material to be found in the remaining four books, that might convince me to try.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah, not the remaining four – just the one 😉 I like Magician’s Nephew because it was written as the last book but is a prequel of sorts and is the most imaginative and funny, I think.


    1. Thank you, Lashaan! 😊

      The Builders is pretty short. It’s a gritty fantastical novella, great to gobble up in one sitting. This one is longer, and more intellectual, which may impact the sheer enjoyment, but in return gives a bit to think about later on. You’re right, Polansky always writes intelligent books. They are not soft and cuddly, and maybe not always very optimistic, but they do leave an impression 😁

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, depends on your approach to it, I guess. It is a forming series for many a writer, not to mention plenty of readers 😉 so it gives you some kind of context. But it’s not mind-blowing, it is definitely a product of its time with the added religious conviction of a neophyte, so it is generally heavy-handed. That said, and all well-deserved criticism aside, I still enjoy some of the books for the sheer power of imagination and the subtle humor. If you’re in an adventurous mood, and can overlook the caveats above, I’d suggest giving Magician’s Nephew a try! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

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