Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Rebel Angels: A review

It is not a very easy book to read. However, it is totally worth it. It reminded me of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's children, though magic realism in this book is much more subtle and integrated. The sequel of this book What's bred in the bone contains many more explicit supernatural elements than does this book. However, I like it all the more for it.

The pace of events never dies after the explosive and completely unwarranted introduction. The university atmosphere being built up feels construed in the beginning, but as one gets used to the eccentric characters and Gothic milieu of Spook university, a rich pasture from an imaginative mind emerges. The story is slow paced and borders on being a philosophical text. However, because of the setting of the story, it does not seem out of place. And the instances of philosophy are broken with patches of humor. Yes, the humor in most cases requires knowing some bits of Greek and Roman mythology and history, but the book does not go out of its way to make it hard. Actually, I would like to read the book once again just as I did Great Expectations in my school days, with annotations and helpful hints thrown along the way. The skill of Robertson Davies as a writer clearly shows through here.

This book is narrated via two different point of views, one of pastor Simon Darcourt and the other of Maria Magdalene Theotoky, a student pursuing a PhD in a field which can be vaguely related to medieval literature. They both have almost equal portions of the book dedicated to them with chapter names alternating between The new Aubrey and Second Paradise. The transitions are smooth and only at one point temporal interleaving comes into play, and that is during the climax.

Allusions to various other sources abound and the development of plot is intricate and subtle. The winning point of the book for me was the dry humor of Simon. The dry and cool manners of Arthur Cornish, the narcissist boasts of McVarish, the gypsy ways of Maria's mother and Maria's confounding attempts to distance herself, the crooked ways of Parlabane and the classical University settings and everything else too make it a memorable book.

This is a book about struggle to rid one of one's past and future, or one's fate. Also, entwined in it are love stories, from love of common gadje people to love of gypsies to love referred to as carnal knowledge to love which fringes on platonic and finally a kind which is nothing more than eternal friendship.

Overall, a very very enjoyable book. Highly recommended.


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