Thursday, 18 May 2017

"Prophecy" by S.J. Parris - May 2017

Every April, London's reading groups have the chance to participate in CityReadsLondon, to get everybody reading the same book for one month. We've been doing this from the very beginning and have worked our way through a London-themed book each April for 5 years now, so thank you to CityRead for providing us with Oliver Twist (2012), A Week in December (2013), My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You (2014, for the centennial of WWI), Rivers of London (2015), Ten Days (2016) and now "Prophecy" by S.J. Parris. We had wildly differing opinions about all of these London books over the years, and the tradition stands! "Prophecy" seemed to be especially divisive for some reason - one can glimpse some real hatred, or at least some enormous exasperation, in this feedback I received from Craig:

"My quick thoughts on the book....or at least the first 30 pages thereof.

If one absolutely has to explain exactly who everyone is and their relationship to everyone else the very moment they enter the narrative then just tear the first 50 pages out and type up a cast list. That much relentless exposition is tiresome even when done well. Having it all delivered in the first person was painful.

As for the narrative style. Please god leave something to the imagination. The relentless stream of adjectives suggested the author was auditioning for a job ghost-writing for Dan Brown. I always suspect writers who assume all their readers are idiots must be consumed by self loathing.

With good reason in this case.

I didn't get very far into the book. It may well have been brilliant and I am probably a complete a*** with no taste.."

Other reading group members were impatient with the book as well, and I completely understand the reasons everyone had, but I personally really liked it. I thought that this is exactly the way that Kate Mosse should have written Labyrinth, which exasperated me way more than Prophecy! I get that the exposition and repetitive style are grating, but for a book that wants to bring Elizabethan politics to a wider audience (which is always good) and generally wants to bring political machinations down to a more human level of one step, one coincidence, one thought leading to the next, I thought it was really well done. Wrapping it in a murder mystery doesn't hurt either. I loved the snarky comments Bruno (and some others) get to make, I thougth the characters were very well drawn, and most of all enjoyed the reasoning Bruno gives when he analyses other people's motives. I thought especially the relationship with his host's wife, who tries to seduce him, and who he must keep at bay without rejecting her too harshly and risking her angry revenge, was really convincing. The power-plays generally between all the different players at the Elizabethan court were interesting as well, and the style was smooth and easy to read.

The only thing that really annoyed me was that Giordano Bruno, whose detailed exposition we're listening to, is made by the author to keep the wool held firmly in front of his eyes and not see who the murderer / betrayer must surely be. The author could have trusted her character and her readership a little bit more than that! Maybe she was scared it would spoil the suspense if he'd figured it out, but I don't think so.

I appreciated being walked through history, even if we were being walked through it like we still needed a bit of hand-holding.
By Cordula and Craig