In so many ways this book is just a real hot mess. It’s 1100 pages long and it folds in so many different parts of British literature: westcountry life, small towns, the return of a kind of prodigal son, community gossip, intrigue, gossip, sex, affairs, Celtic mysticism, druidic shamanism, King Arthur legends, and the long pull of history.
As an American, we’re often told and reminded of how relatively young our country is, and while this is true, that’s entirely built on a myth of how the continent of America was viewed by settlers. In this book, there’s a similar kind of tension related to the land. Here we find ourselves in western England, near Stonehenge, the land of King Arthur and the Holy Grail (so the site of English cultural identity, at least mythically), and what do we have? Almost nothing. Like other books that try to locate King Arthur in the 20th and 21st century (The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis, The War in Heaven by Charles Williams) this book too takes a look at the mythic history and tries to reckon with how that mythos applies to the modern landscape, and in this book especially, the industrial revolution, WWI, modern values, and the kind of historical forgetting that has occurred (ie lopping off the past at about 1800) is seen as a real loss, at least by one of the central figures, who spends tons of the novel trying to replicate what has been lost.
But like I said, the book is a mess. It’s so long, and so absurd at times. It’s both wonderful and a chore, and I don’t often get that Stockholm Syndrome feel from long books, but I did here. It’s not a charming and funny as Wolf Solent, but it has more to say. Also, it feels like the invention of Iris Murdoch in some real intense ways.