This book was one of my favorite reads of 2015! I read a review of Paul Kingsnorth's novel, The Wake, on National Public Radio's webpage earlier thisThis book was one of my favorite reads of 2015! I read a review of Paul Kingsnorth's novel, The Wake, on National Public Radio's webpage earlier this fall and ordered a hard-cover copy. This book tells the story of several years of armed resistance to the French occupying England following the Norman Conquest in 1066. While most of us are probably somewhat familiar with William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion of England, I had no idea that for nearly a decade following the conquest there was a fairly active and widespread resistance waged against the French overlords.
Kingsnorth's novel tells the story of a small band of Englishmen who conduct their guerrilla war against the French in the little towns and hamlets in what is now Lincolnshire. They are led by Buccmaster, a somewhat deranged, possibly even psychotic, landowner who was burned out of his house and lands and had his family slaughtered by the French. Frankly, it is kind of hard to like or admire Buccmaster, as at times he is a coward, a liar, and a flat-out manipulator of the men in his warband. At the same time though, the reader can certainly understand Buccmaster's motivation, as everything he valued has been taken by the French. He has nothing left and essentially nothing left to lose. As I read The Wake I kept thinking how any of us would react if an army of foreigners invaded our country, killed our family members and took everything from us. Like Buccmaster, I think I could be considered dangerously crazy too.
This story of medieval guerrilla warfare would, I suspect, be interesting in its own right, but what Kingsnorth does is truly something remarkable. First, the novel is completely written in a "shadow-tongue" which is a cleverly constructed amalgam of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and modern English. Kingsnorth wants the reader to experience Buccmaster's story--as much as is humanly possible--in the vernacular of the English people of Buccmaster's time. It takes some time like 30-40 pages before the reader has the "light-bulb" moment and one begins to fully comprehend this language. I think my prior exposure to Anglo-Saxon through Beowulf and some of the other Old English writings and poems that I have encountered helped me immensely too. Kingsnorth does include a brief glossary for his shadow-tongue at the end of the novel, but he makes you work for many of the words used. It really helps to read the sentence out loud as the phonetic pronunciation sometimes helps you figure out the word's meaning and context of the sentence.
The other aspect that I really found enchanting about the novel was the power of mysticism, mythology, and reverence for Nature and the old ways that Buccmaster and many of his followers believe in. Christianity had been introduced to Britain several hundred years before this, but many still believed in the elder gods that were more closely associated with the Norse, the Danes, and even the Druids illustrating the multi-national influences upon the British peoples in 1000 A.D. Finally, Buccmaster's connection with Nature and the landscape around him was expressed lyrically and almost poetically throughout much of the novel.
This is a grim, dark, violent and forbidding novel about a period of history that most of us know little to nothing at all about, but after spending several hundred pages deep in the demented mind of Buccmaster I feel like I have much better understanding of what the apocalypse of the Norman Conquest meant not only to the people of Britain, but for all of us who speak the English language today.
I want to reread Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake again very soon, while I still have the language in my head, and I surmise that I will get even more out of it. This novel was long-listed for the 2014 Man-Booker Prize, and I certainly can understand why. This is a singularly unique literary achievement, and a novel that I highly recommend.
Something Red is a really stunning little novel. More times than not this dark tale reminded me of the early Anglo-Saxon alliterative epic poem, BeowuSomething Red is a really stunning little novel. More times than not this dark tale reminded me of the early Anglo-Saxon alliterative epic poem, Beowulf (especially Seamus Heaney's brilliant translation). The story revolves around a small troupe of travelers on a journey through a rugged wild portion of northern England during a bleak and cold winter in the 13th Century. During the course of their trip the horror and terror mounts until the explosive climax near the end of the book.
The author of Something Red, Douglas Nicholas, in my opinion, is a writer of great promise. Not only can he spin a great yarn, but his prose is gorgeous and verges on the poetic at times. The characters are interesting and well wrought, and his use of magic and mythology is deft and sure-footed and works well. It is hard to pigeon-hole this book as horror, fantasy, mystery, medieval historical fiction--as it really is all of the above. Mostly though, this is just one damn good book that I had a hard time putting down until I'd read the last page....more
This is a thought-provoking little novel. While it doesn't take particularly long to read, it kinda sticks with you in a visceral sort of way long aftThis is a thought-provoking little novel. While it doesn't take particularly long to read, it kinda sticks with you in a visceral sort of way long after you've turned the last page. It is a cold, grim and dark plot completely suited to the 14th century winter in England described in the tale. While the plot is certainly constructed around a mystery, I really found it to be a truly fascinating character study that I've come to expect from Unsworth's fiction (e.g., see my review of his terrific novel The Songs Of The Kings: A Novel). I can tell you that upon finishing this little book I learned that there is absolutely nothing in the slightest romantic or desirable about life in 14th century England during the time of the Black Death....more
This review is associated with the translation of Beowulf by Howell D. Chickering, Jr. (1977, 2006)--
This is simply a superb translation that feels anThis review is associated with the translation of Beowulf by Howell D. Chickering, Jr. (1977, 2006)--
This is simply a superb translation that feels ancient and mystical. This is such a great story--the monsters, the dragon, and the treasure and all--and Chickering's translation really makes the reader feel like they are in the smoky mead hall listening to the bard sing this tale. I need to go back and read Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf again, but I really think that this stacks up very well with Heaney's. And like Heaney's translation, Chickering's translation also includes the original Anglo-Saxon text on the facing page for comparison. He also has a couple of hundred pages of background information about the poem, in-depth analysis and commentary, and an extensive index and glossary. I highly recommend having a copy of this is edition of Beowulf on your bookshelf...more
This review is associated with J.R.R. Tolkien's translation--
In my opinion, this is one of the best translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ouThis review is associated with J.R.R. Tolkien's translation--
In my opinion, this is one of the best translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight out there. Tolkien was a master of writing alliterative poetry (e.g., see his long epic poems published in The Lays of Beleriand), and also spent time in the 1920s editing the original Middle English text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E.V. Gordon (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). This was a very well-crafted translation and fun to read....more
This review is associated with the original Middle English text of the poem that was edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon in 1925, and reedited anThis review is associated with the original Middle English text of the poem that was edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon in 1925, and reedited and reissued by Norman Davis in 1967--
If you're at all interested in studying the original Middle English text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight this is the edition for you. The Introduction, glossary, and index are superb. I used this edition over several weeks in an ongoing effort to study and learn Middle English. This is a hard book to find too, so snap it up if you come across a copy....more
This review is associated with Simon Armitage's translation.
I am less than enamored with Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. JuThis review is associated with Simon Armitage's translation.
I am less than enamored with Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Just my opinion, but I felt he took liberties with the translation of the Middle English text that just took it a bit too far. I'm much more a fan of the translations of Tolkien, Marie Borroff, and W.S. Merwin. I'm glad that I read Armitage's translation though, as I think it is important to see what other poets have done with this medieval element of the Arthurian epic....more
This was incredible! First of all, the story was told in the spare, sparse, and gritty language of Seamus Heaney's bilingual translation of the Anglo-This was incredible! First of all, the story was told in the spare, sparse, and gritty language of Seamus Heaney's bilingual translation of the Anglo-Saxon original. Second, the plot of this elegiac poem was absolutely epic. The horror of Grendel and his Dam was palpable; and the heroism of Beowulf and his spear-fellows timeless. Finally, the ability to carefully study Heaney's translation, alliteration, and interpretation and then compare it to the Anglo-Saxon was almost surrealistic. It was an amazing experience to have the ability to look at and study the root language of modern English.
My younger brother recommended the Heaney translation to me, and now I know why. This has become a poem I intend to visit, and revisit, many, many times in the years to come. From the perspective of my personal enjoyment of poetry, reading Beowulf has been transformative. Reading Beowulf has led me to go back and reinvestigate the ancient Icelandic poetry of the Poetic Edda (or "Elder Edda"), including the Volsungasaga. From epics like Beowulf and the Poetic Edda, it is abundantly clear what a profound influence these early writings have had on the literature of the English language.
In conclusion, I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to actually sit down and read this beautiful poem. All I can say is "Bravo!" "Bravo!" to the original eighth or ninth century poet, and to Seamus Heaney for his beautiful new presentation of this early treasure of the English language....more