Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Saga

A new historical saga – not for me…

The Brethren by Robert Merle


I love the idea of getting stuck into reading an historical saga, I really do. I know I can do sagas spread over many novels – just not historical ones it seems. In particular, I started reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles with good intentions here but never progressed onto the second volume properly (I will one day though – I promise – for I loved Lymond as a character). Actually, I’ve can’t remember another historical series that I’ve followed through – ever.

Standalone historical novels are a different matter and I’ve read and enjoyed many over the years although I admit that books set in pre-Victorian milieux are not a genre of fiction that I read regularly. Also, I think I’m fed up of the Tudors which is why Wolf Hall etc are still sitting on my shelves.

I did think I’d have another try with The Brethren – the first volume in Robert Merle’s Fortunes of France saga – bestsellers on the continent, and now translated by T.Jefferson Kline for Pushkin Press. The Brethren was published in 1977; Merle’s thirteen volume saga took him 26 years to complete, the last volume appearing just before his death in 2004.

Périgord in the middle of the sixteenth century is our setting (Mary Tudor is on the English throne). This part of France has the feel of border country – the reach of the King is limited in this wild region. Two veteran soldiers, who adopt each other as true brothers, arrive to make their home in a run-down castle, for which they outbid the neighbouring landowner who had hoped to win it for a song.

The Brethren as they are known, set about working their lands and renovating the castle giving employment to many. They are seen as fair, but tinged by the new faith of the Huguenots, which is not relieved when the younger of the two Jeans marries the beautiful Catholic daughter of a local baron – and there will always be tension between Jean and Isabelle over it.

Civil war is looming between the two religions … and that is where I left the novel at about page 80.

I didn’t warm to the style of writing and don’t know whether that is due to Merle or the translator. I just found it all very dry indeed and had a sinking feeling that it would be all too much about the soldiering, and not enough about the brothers and their families. The introduction was very slow and unlike Lymond, I didn’t get a feel for either of the Jeans at all – they were just too aloof and, dare I say it, too good. If I’m to invest in a reading a saga, I need interesting exciting characters. I’m sure they will have their day later but I have too many other books to read to give them more time.  DNF

* * * * *
Source: Publisher – Thank you (and sorry!). To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Brethren (Fortunes of France)by Robert Merle, trans T.Jefferson Kline. Pub Sept 2014 by Pushkin Press, Trade paperback, 416 pages.

Losing myself in the Lymond Chronicles

The Game Of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

Dunnett Readalong

I reported on my experiences about reading the first half of The Game of Kings, the first volume in Dorothy Dunnett’s saga of 16th century life in the Scottish border country, here.  A month later I’ve finished the book and thus the first leg of my plans to read the series.  You’ll be glad to know at the outset that I plan to carry on, but first some closing  thoughts about Book 1 of the Lymond Chronicles…

dunnett 1During the first half, although I immediately enjoyed the derring-do of the errant Master of Culter, I did let myself get slightly bogged down in looking things up – all the foreign phrases, good Scottish dialect and cultural references from history, myths and legends through the ages.

I read the second half in a totally way – I just went for it, didn’t look anything up. Teresa had suggested to me that this was the best way for a first reading. You were right Teresa – total immersion made it great fun.

The second half starts with much politicking, bargaining, and plans for hostage taking and exchanging. Young Will Scott is toying with the idea of handing over Lymond to his estranged father after a falling out.

Scott’s reply was inaudible, and Lymond walked straight up to the boy. His riding clothes, swiftly tended since he had come from Tantallon, were sartorial perfection, his hair shone like glass and his voice glittered to match. He was impeccably, unpleasantly sober.
‘You have my warmest good wishes for any urgent need you may discover to injure me, personally. Just try it…’

I love the phrase ‘impeccably, unpleasantly sober’, so evocative.

Soon Lymond is again toying with the affections of his brother’s wife, Mariotta – who is promptly left by Richard and goes to the convent, from whence she is rescued by Lymond’s mother Sybilla…

There she found herself in the embarrassing position of the social suicide who wakes up after the laudanum: the skies had fallen and had done nothing but add to the general obscurity.

It’s sentences and phrases like the quotes above that I find really attractive in Dunnett’s writing.  However, sometimes I can do without the ‘listiness’ – one of my literary bugbears that makes me shout ‘Get on with it!’ in my head; take this quote for example, in which Will Scott and Lymond are arguing again …

 ‘I’m tired of a landscape with dragons,’ said Scott violently.
‘What, then? Retreat underground into hebetude; retreat under water like a swallow; retreat into a shell like a mollusc; retreat into the firmament like some erroneous dew….’

See what I mean?  By the way, I looked up ‘hebetude‘ – it means dullness or lethargy, and apparently is a word much beloved by Joseph Conrad, so there.

However, Dunnett does have a sense of humour, and a tendency to listiness and hyperbole is one of Lymond’s show-off qualities. He does it again with Gideon Somerville, an Englishman who proves invaluable to his cause…

 ‘The Scot, the Frencheman, the Pope and heresie, overcommed by Trothe have had a fall. Again yes.’
‘I wish to God,’ said Gideon with mild exasperation, ‘that you’d talk – just once – in prose like other people.’

That made me laugh!

I so enjoyed the second half of this novel, that I was really shocked when my favourite character from the first part, (apart from Lymond of course), came to an unfortunate end. (Don’t read my prior post if you don’t want to find out who it was).

The Game of Kings ends with Lymond being caught and hauled back to Edinburgh to stand trial for treason, and we finally find out why he was considered a treacherous renegade.  A fabulous court scene provides a fitting end to the book. Naturally – as there are six books in the series, you can safely assume that he gets off to live another day.  (9/10)

* * * * *

dunnett 2

What’s Next?…
As you can guess from my enthusiastic reading of the first volume, I have become hooked into reading the rest of this series.  The books are densely written, and are all between four and five hundred pages, so I intend to carry on at the same rate of half a book per month which will take me up to the end of November.

So onwards with Queens Play, which sees Francis Lymond off to France to look after the young Queen at the court of Henri II.

Dunnett Readalong 2I’ll report back on the first half in mid-Feb, and the second mid-March.  I’m looking forward to it, and if any of you want to join in, you’re very welcome. I’ll make a Who’s Who bookmark again in the next few days. I found the one I made for The Game of Kings very useful.

* * * * *

I inherited my copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kingsand Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett – Print on demand. Used and e-book formats also available.

“Lymond is back.”

These are the first words of the first book, The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett’s in her series, The Lymond Chronicles.  I’ve not read any of Dunnett’s novels, and back at the end of August I mused on whether I should get stuck into her books.  The response was tremendous and very encouraging – thank you.

So today, which happens to be International Dorothy Dunnett Day (IDDD), organised by the Dorothy Dunnett Society – I shall embark upon reading the saga.

I previously asked for your advice on whether I should dive in and immerse myself in the books, or take it at a more leisurely readalong pace. There was plenty of interest in reading along, but many of you recommended plunging into the books.  I would usually take the plunge route, not being good at restraining myself, so I’ve come up with a middle path which allows for some concentrated reading, but also comes up for breath …

The first book has four parts of roughly 190, 90, 90 and 200 pages (in my edition), so I propose to simply split it in half and read the first 2 parts this month, and report back on around December 10th, then to read the latter parts over Christmas and report back on around January 10th, so we have two hearty chunks of just under 300 pages each.

My friend Claire (@clairemccauley) has lent me a copy of the first Dorothy Dunnett Companion, so I shall be dipping into that too as needed for reference, and may report back on it in a separate post. I also intend to tweet my thoughts as I read along – see @gaskella.

My fingers are crossed that I’ll love it and will want to carry on with Queen’s Play and the rest of the series at a similar rate of pages to read each month. Please feel free to readalong with me (and Claire).  I’m really looking forward to it, and what better way to celebrate my 750th post than starting a readalong.

* * * * *
I inherited/borrowed my copies of the books. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kings: The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett – Print on demand, s/hand copies available.
The Dorothy Dunnett Companion
by Elspeth Morrison – O/P but s/hand copies available.

%d bloggers like this: