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To Calais, in Ordinary Time

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  162 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Three journeys. One road.

England, 1348. A gentlewoman is fleeing an odious arranged marriage, a Scottish proctor is returning home to Avignon and a handsome young ploughman in search of adventure is on his way to volunteer with a company of archers. All come together on the road to Calais.

Coming in their direction from across the Channel is the Black Death, the plague that
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published September 5th 2019 by Canongate Books
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Paul Fulcher
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
It’s Cotswold. It’s Outen Green. As if no French never touched their tongues. I ne know myself sometimes what they mean. They say steven in place of voice, and shrift and housel for confession and absolution, and bead for prayer.

The People’s Act of Love by James Meek was in my top 3 books of 2005, edged out only by the first volume of Marias’s magnificent Your Face Tomorrow trilogy and Salman Rushdie’s brilliant and underrated Shalimar the Clown, but I have been disappointed by the three
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
To Calais In Ordinary Time is the story of a group of travellers journeying across England at the outset of the Black Death. The entire novel is written in semi-medieval English and told from three different perspectives: that of a scribe whose language is studded with Latinate terms; that of a young noblewoman whose diction is marked by Norman French; and that of a ploughman whose vocabulary is more clearly Saxon.

James Meek depicts a world in the process of huge transformation. Social norms
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle, netgalley
This is a book that requires your full attention, going very slow through pretty, almost prosaic scenery filled with indepth characters and dialogue. It is set in the 1300's and the language, although proper English, follows the spoken word of that day. The chapters are extremely long.
I love historical fiction and really tried to get into the story, but in the end I couldn't find the patience to continue and thus have shelved it for now.

Thank you Netgalley and Canongate for the ARC.
Paul Dembina
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really very good. A mixed bunch of people heading to Calais with the Black Death imminent in 14th century England.
You have a group of archers off to fight the French, a noble lady fleeing an arranged marriage and a cleric returning to his home in Avignon.
What I found interesting was the variants of English used by these 3 sets of people. The nobles pepper their vocabulary with French words,the cleric in a similar manner but in his case it's Latin whilst the common folk use a more basic version.
Keith Currie
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Love, Romance, Catastrophe

Bernadine, a damsel fated to an unwanted marriage, flees her father’s manor in pursuit of a romantic ideal; Will, a young herdsman, is sent to join a company of archers as part of the king’s levy; Thomas, a failed scholar, is assigned to the company of archers in lieu of a priest to take confession. All make their way together with the bowmen, battle-hardened at Crecy, to Melcombe in Dorset in order to take ships to Calais. Coming in the opposite direction is the
Sep 04, 2019 marked it as maybe

Set in 14C, James Meeks new novel: In “To Calais, In Ordinary Time” the Black Death is a kind of hold-all catastrophic metaphor: for climate change, political meltdown and moral decay
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Set in 1348, England, the story features four (not three, like the blurb says) people who join up with a company of archers on their way to fight in Calais, France: a farmhand-cum-archer named Will, a Scottish proctor named Thomas on his way to Avignon, a knight's daughter named Bernadine fleeing her arranged marriage to a much older man, and a fourth person who will remain nameless so as not to spoil the story.

The narrative is by far the most intriguing aspect of the novel. It is written in a
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Abandoned, but not removed from kindle.
The author has written a Mediaeval road trip novel, with an attempt to show the different usages of the English language of the time by people of different classes and levels of education. Unfortunately he has done so in a way which did not work for me, although I can see he has tried. The introduction of a few archaic and invented words (with the appropriate origin) jarred and the characters and story were not compelling enough to overcome that. He has
Patricia O'Brien
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
An excellent book of many tales in one novel. The early language is an enjoyable challenge which I hadn't experienced for a very long time - not since The Name of the Rose. ( I stress I don't compare it to that.)
The characters are diverse - some noble but many despicable and their journey together is fraught with tensions and danger, not least from the plague.
Many of the threads contained in this book gave me much to ponder: brutality and gentleness, fidelity and oppression. However, surely the
John Kaye
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
It may be a tour-de-force, but Í'm afraid I didn't have the patience, and baled out around page 100. Also, I'd found by then that I didn't care much about the characters, so reading at twenty pages an hour wasn't working for me.
Garry Nixon
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the joys of good historical fiction is that it portrays human needs and dilemmas, but with people and situations who are far more alien to us than the characters in sci-fi. This is particularly true of this setting, at the onset of the Black Death, the beginning of the end of feudalism, and the flourishing of capitalism.

Social stratification is a constant theme. It's cleverly done, with three narratives written in styles suggestive of three Middle Englishes, ordinary people speaking
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
My main takeaway is that it was possible to wear the same dress for a lot of days in a row in 1348.
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction at its best!
I loved how well this book is written, the character development and well researched historical background.
It made me travel in time and I couldn't put it down as the plot is gripping and engaging.
I look forward to reading other books by this author.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This book must have taken a lot of effort to write. The story is written in a medieval-type style, and told from the perspective of a number of travellers on the road together. It takes a while to become comfortable with the writing style, and the slow progress of events (which reflects the slow pace of travelling in medieval times), but it is a worthwhile (although sometimes a little boring) read.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you are open to an unusual and challenging reading experience, To Calais has a lot to offer. It’s not a quick read or a lazy one; in fact, it’s something of an adventure in language. Meek uses three different flavors of diction for his three protagonists: one courtly and peppered with French, one in the voice of the common folk, and one in the language of a scholarly/clerical class. None is, of course, in the actual language of the time, or it would be impossible for most of us to read. But ...more
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
To Calais, in Ordinary Time is one of those books you enter like a world and realize you want to remain in. To Calais is set in the 14th Century as the Black Death arrives in Britain, so that wanting to remain is very conditional. One doesn't want the death, the brutality, the disrespect for women—but one does want the pacing and the unexpected relationships that form and the ethical considerations faced when every act (or absence) is seen as God's will.

To Calais follows an unusual cohort
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alda Saldan
In To Calais, in Ordinary Time we have a mixed group of people travelling to Calais in 1348 England: a group of bowmen with questionable reputation, a young herdsman joining the archers to fight the French and gain the status of free man, a young noblewoman fleeing from an undesired marriage and a failed proctor. We are in the year of the Black Death, when plague spreads throughout Europe and our characters are also chased by the disease during their journey and encounters on the path towards ...more
Jo-anne Atkinson
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Bernadine is fleeing a marriage that she does not want when she falls in with a band of archers heading to the coast to catch a ship to France. Amongst them are a young man looking to buy his freedom from serfdom and the pig-boys' 'sister'. As they journey from the Cotswolds to the port of Melbury they are unaware that a greater peril is travelling in the opposite direction.
Set at the onset of the Plague in the 1340s this is a book which warrants reading. The language is difficult, written in
Haley Renee The Caffeinated Reader

This is a testament to the detail and research Meek has done. The novel is brimming with the nuances and vernacular of 1348 and it reads so atmospherically because of that, that you feel you are in the time period.

This also means though that it took me a while to get into a rhythm when reading this book because of the medieval vernacular. This also made me lose focus on the story itself at times, which was a shame as the story was quite a remarkable
Tom F
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Principally an immersive linguistic project, I think this also functions as a refresher on our preconceptions about the personality of the period (certainly there are more surprises to be found in its own literature, but Meek's novel isan accessible and engaging excursion). The cast promises a breadth of analysis that isn't delivered, as the author can too often be heard ventriloquising through his characters' mouths or, particularly, the pen of the proctor Thomas. Occasional naturalistic ...more
Mark Redman
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
To Calais, In Ordinary Time, is as glorious as it is imaginative.

The story centres around a woman who flees an arranged marriage. A young man searching for his freedom. And a proctor on his way to Avignon. These disparate characters all come together on the road to Calais.

However, they must face the Blackdeath. Eventually, all the characters must face the past they're fleeing, in the hope of a future.

This book is an amazing feast of language and it summons all kinds of emotions whilst you're
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's a very clever novel that manages to a considerable extent to sound authentic. Many historical novels are ourselves in fancy dress, but this uses languages, plural, to suggest an England where class and education mean the three main characters who are filters for the action literally only part- understand each other's speech, and where we have to work out what words mean from their context. So it's quite hard workfor the reader, and there's a kind of rawness in the subject matter. Worth the ...more
Graham X.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this, thought it was great, left it for a while for reflection and now here's the review: it's still great.
Being about the 14th century, the Black Death, etc., it's hardly surprising that it reflects the Canterbury Tales and the Decameron. Like them it tells several stories in different voices within a whole which in this case is another fully plotted story itself. Where the language is unfamiliar it isn't difficult - once you're used to a few unknown words they repeat often and give you
Jim Hanks
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
England, 1348. A gentlewoman is fleeing an odious arranged marriage, a Scottish proctor is returning home to Avignon and a handsome young ploughman in search of adventure is on his way to volunteer with a company of archers. All come together on the road to Calais.
I've always been a big fan of James Meek. His latest book is a challenging and rewarding read. There is a lot going on in the three strands of the story, but the characters are very well defined, and the pace of the book is never slow.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful discovery. I can't remember why I had this on my list but let's say instinct for it was exactly what is special about reading. I am transported into 14th c England - the rude, the mystical, the religious, the vainglorius, of the earth; peopled with characters one learns to know through actions and speaking...and thinking and all in latinized, french-influenced medi.eval English! As the plague takes characters one by one...and that is expected, known, a part of the story that ...more
Stephen King
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Set in Medieval England in the 1340’s, a serf is obliged to join a ‘score’ of bowmen en route to Calais in exchange for his freedom. His master’s daughter simultaneously flees to avoid an arranged marriage. James Meek has created a stunningly original book which works as a conventional historical thriller but is made unique by its meticulous use of language - educated in the form of Thomas the Proctor, coarse as used by Longfreke and Will, the bowmen, drawn from chivalric traditions, as used by ...more
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful and clever book. Difficult at first to become comfortable with the language(s) used but after a few pages the rhythm and interest of the story itself took over. Fascinating insights to the human condition, how we see ourselves and others and how that might impact on how we behave and treat each other. All done with a light hand that was hugely entertaining and still leaves me mulling over the meanings of various parts. A wonderful read.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a challenging read. Parts of the story are written in old english which adds to the level of complexity.

3 narrators - all of different class, station in life and language.

Some of the story is so fantastical and it’s really not believable to me.

That said it is a morality play and that is a theme carried well through the book and all characters.

I was able to finish the read, but nearly gave up several times.

Not a book I would strongly recommend to others.

Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This feels so much a book of today in Britain and Europe and yet not in any crass or obvious or schematic way. When I started it I thought "Oh God, this is going to be a long haul..." but I soon found myself really getting into it, enjoying its crudeness and bawdiness, its portrayal of people literally not speaking the same language (Frenchified English for the nobles, Germanic English for the peasants, Latinate English for the ecclesiastical central character recording the tale), its ...more
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