Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Lost in Space and Time

Book Review - The Arthurian Quintet, by Mary Stewart

Airport lounges are strangely anodyne places; they could be anywhere in the world. It's dark outside, so only the photos on the wall tell me where I am. The decor, the food, the service: there's almost no variation, where-ever you are (unless it's remarkably bad). It's like airports exist outside of real space and time.

Lost in an airport world, it's nice to immerse yourself in fiction. So here's a short, a very short review of an old but great, series that transports you to another space and time, but in a much more pleasant way than any airport can.

Mary Stewart's Arthurian Quintet began in 1970, with The Last Enchantment, and ended in 1983 with The Wicked Day. Set in a post-Roman Britain c 500-600 AD, the stories are remarkable both for the quality of the prose and the integrity of the writer to a period of time about which little is known.

As a writer, what strikes me on re-reading these novels is the imagery 'his face was as grey as twice-used tallow'; 'a man on horseback can sink from sight as easily..as a spoon sinking into a bowl of gruel.' These are not modern images; how many people have seen a tallow candle, let alone a twice-used one? Yet they resonate in a way that is profound, for the narrator, Merlin, is a man of his times and these images are consistent with his world.

Rather stupidly, I did not put these novels on my reading list, even they take place in regions that I'm visiting. So this post doesn't really count, I guess. But if you enjoy historical fiction with an element of fantasy and want to take yourself away from airport angst, do try these books.

You can read more reviews on Goodreads

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