A critical yet teasing tone

Jane Austen?
A putative Jane Austen portrait

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice Everyman 1993

To my deep shame I have never before now read this classic (and I’m not counting skimming pages, nor watching the TV and film versions). I’m not sure whether it was false pride or male prejudice that stopped me (the label ‘romance’ would have been enough to put me off when I was younger) or simply laziness (most probably this), but I now know what I’ve been missing: a witty but perspicacious novel, not as hard to comprehend as parodies suggested, and, though set in a period of history I’m not over-familiar with, a primary social document on manners and presumptions in the Napoleonic era. Continue reading “A critical yet teasing tone”

A heady brew

compass roseStuart McHardy On the Trail of the Holy Grail
Luath Press Ltd 2006

Another of this author’s Arthurian titles (his 2001 The Quest for Arthur was also published by Luath Press) takes him on a quest from the pages of medieval writers to places in the Scottish landscape, and from the early medieval period back into the mists of time. Along the way he encounters folklore and legend, Dark Age warriors and Goddess worship, Pictish symbol stones and natural wonders. It’s all a bit contentious, especially his insistence that every crucial aspect of the Arthurian legend, from Arthur himself to the location of Avalon, is to be firmly set in Scotland, and McHardy flits in a gossipy style from one discipline to another, taking a nugget from one or another scholar and linking it indiscriminately to antiquarian speculation. In fact, despite describing himself as a ‘cultural ecologist’ McHardy is actually a typical speculative antiquarian, mixing fact and fancy in a heady brew that leaves you with a hangover. Continue reading “A heady brew”

A grail like no other

Hildesheim portable altar, V&A Museum
Hildesheim portable altar, V&A Museum

G Ronald Murphy Gemstone of Paradise:
the Holy Grail in Wolfram’s
Parzival

Oxford University Press 2010

Who has not heard of the grail? Who does not have an image of it, perhaps as a cup or some other receptable? Who has not gathered that there is some mystery concerning it, such as it being the chalice of the Last Supper, or the bloodline of Christ, or even some angelic or alien artefact? And who has not gathered that it is something many search for but few, if any, find? What is it, where did it come from and what is its significance? Does anyone really know?

It may be best to go back to basics. Continue reading “A grail like no other”

A well-rounded world

door

Trudi Canavan The Novice Orbit 2010

The novice of the title is the young Sonea whom we met in the first volume of this trilogy, The Magicians’ Guild. She has overcome her anxiety about joining the Guild following an exhausting search for her when her burgeoning powers threatened to endanger both herself and the inhabitants of Kyralia’s capital Imardin. Having been reluctantly accepted into the Guild by the magicians she is then subjected to concerted bullying by a cohort of students led by Regin who are persuaded that, as a former inhabitant of the city’s slums, she is fair game for victimisation. But as her magical potential continues to grow a close interest is taken in her by Akkarin, the enigmatic High Lord of the Guild, with consequences that nobody in the Guild could have foreseen; and as the story unfolds the High Lord’s dark secret becomes increasingly obvious to the attentive reader.

A trilogy’s middle novel is potentially difficult in terms of lack of resolution and loose ends. Canavan largely gets round this by having a central theme, namely bullying. Continue reading “A well-rounded world”