Saturday, May 18, 2013

Finding Camlann: Review

Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgin is an incredibly disappointing book.  It caught my eye on the "New Books" shelf at the library and the bookflap synopsis reeled me in and convinced me that I needed to read it:

Despite the wealth of scholarship that pretends to offer proof, archaeologist Donald Gladstone knows there is no solid evidence that a real King Arthur ever existed. Still, the great popular tales spun by medieval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, and embroidered by Chrétien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, and so many others, must have found their inspiration somewhere. A dramatic archaeological find at Stonehenge and the rediscovery of an old Welsh battle poem, buried among the manuscripts of the Bodleian Library, open up enticing—and misleading—new possibilities.

When the beguiling Julia Llewellyn, a linguist working on the Oxford English Dictionary, joins Donald on the trail of clues, their fervent enthusiasms, unusual gifts, and unfulfilled yearnings prove a combustible mix. Their impassioned search for truths buried deep in the past, amid the secret places and half-forgotten legends of the British countryside, must ultimately transform them—and all our understandings of the origins of Arthur.

An intellectual and emotional journey of myriad pleasures, Finding Camlann is at its heart a love story—not only of romantic love but also the love between parents and grown children; the intense feelings of professors and students; the love of language, place, and home; and the thrill of scholarly research and detective work. Throughout, Sean Pidgeon’s lyrical prose brings together history, myth, and dream, sweeping the reader into the mysteries of the past and the pure delight of storytelling.

What a great pity that it didn't quite live up to that.  It actually is quite a mess.  You've got Donald on his odd little Arthur quest driving everywhere and, apparently (from the text), noticing every little, itsy-bitsy detail of the geography around him along the way.  You've got his rather dreary, maybe-it's-on; maybe-it's-off affair with Julia.  You've got Julia's weird relationship with her husband and all her doubts and fears about whether he (her husband) or her father or both have been involved in this totally unrelated explosion in the past.  You've got one half-crazy scholar and Donald's ex-wife who is bit batty on the subject of ancient Wales and a priestess cult.  Mix well and add a stilted, present-tense narration...and watch how the story just sort of stumbles along from one of these topics to another.  I didn't really notice any "fervent enthusiasms" or "combustible mix" (unless you count that explosion that didn't even happen during the story's present events).  Even when told that Donald was getting excited about this discovery or that I didn't really believe that he was.  And then when we get to the end.....well it just ends.  There's no real closure to the story and we're left to imagine what happens next.  In some books that's a good thing.  But with no solid storyline in this one....not so much.

I may be over-rating it with two stars--but I thought the concept was interesting and I actually liked the characters.  I just wish there had been a more coherent narration and more development of those characters.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

What a shame, because that cover is gorgeous.