Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Book Review: Company of Liars - Karen Maitland

I first spotted this book when at the Lowdham Book Festival this summer. It caught my eye but, as we were already laden, it stayed behind. Left, but not forgotten.

After a terrifically embarrassing turn at Blackwell's Oxford the other weekend (yes, I really was the person who says 'it had an X cover and was about Y'), Cloud did a rather more focused internet search using our recollection that it had been on the back table of publications at the Lowdham Book Festival -- meaning it was by one of the appearing authors. And I did remember it was about the plague.

This pinned down Karen Maitland's novel 'Company of Liars' and it was promptly added to my birthday pressies.

I finished reading it last night and have to say it was a breathtaking read (albeit a whopping 576 pages). Set in 1348 - it is subtitled 'A Novel of the Plague' - Company of Liars presents a fascinating collection of characters, bound together by circumstance and travelling through pestilence ravaged England in pursuit of safety, refuge, home and solace. Liars all, their secrets are uncovered as the novel progresses and we are drawn into their desperate attempts to outrun their lies and the who/what that will uncover their secrets.

Our guide through the narrative is (a) camelot, a relic seller (there is a neat glossary at the end) whose sharp observations nevertheless hide lies. Its a complete page-turner, full of rich historical detail and characters - even the ones you dislike are portrayed as rounded figures.

There's murder and dark humour abounding in the text. And its a handsome hardback book as well. Well worth paying full price for a thoroughly enthralling read.

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