Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A Medieval Feast: SUNRISE IN THE WEST by Edith Pargeter

Sunrise in the West by Edith Pargeter
When I am reading a Edith Pargeter book you best not interrupt me. Don't ring me, don't text me, don't tap me on the shoulder, don't ask me if I want coffee and a biscuit.
It isn't that I would get violent with you, or swear at you or throw your biscuit across the room, but there is a very good chance that I will not answer your phone call, read your text, respond to your soft tap or give you an answer on that coffee. You must forgive me, in advance, for I will be so thoroughly absorbed in the book that I may not even know you are there. I need time with these Pargeter novels.They take some work and I always need good solid reading sessions when I start them, because brief reading sessions do not allow me the time to absorb what is going on.

So, just quietly put the coffee and biscuit on the table next to me and let us assume that at some stage I may notice them.

One of my favourite historical fiction books is A Bloody Field By Shrewsbury, also by this author, who is better known for writing the Brother Cadfael series under the name Ellis Peters. I don't have much time for the Cadfael series, but when it comes to her non-mystery historical fiction novels I have all the time in the world.

It is the writing really. There is something so priceless about the writing techniques this author uses. They are special and, in my opinion, beyond compare. Of course, I acknowledge there are historical fiction authors currently writing that are very skilful, with a style all their own, it is just that Pargeter is unique in a way that has no modern comparison.
I don't think the technique is without its faults though. For me, sometimes she bogs down in the methodical nature of her writing style and forgets that she still has to write something that will captivate an audience. I also don't like the way 'And' is used to begin sentences in every other sentence. I am a fan of using 'And' to start a sentence myself, but I feel Edith Pargeter goes a little too far with it. Using it too frequently.

The Sunrise in the West story is a luscious and elegant journey through the fairly unexplored medieval politics of thirteenth century Wales. It is the first novel in the well respected collection of four books, the others being The Dragon at Noonday, The Hounds of Sunset and Afterglow and Nightfall, all of which, thankfully, I own and treasure in one volume called Brothers of Gwynedd. I haven't read them all as I write this review, but I soon hope to and the reviews will pop up here as I go.

The book is not for the fainthearted. This is no sanguineous pulp fiction extravaganza or action adventure sprint race. Nor is it an uncomplicated read or light novel for someone who doesn't like to be challenged. Edith Pargeter will indeed challenge you if you try her books. There is no doubt of that. She will challenge you on how you think historical fiction should read and even, more importantly, she will challenge you to slow the heck down when you do read.
Unless you are ready for a slow, literary degustation menu, you will never stick with this book and you probably won't appreciate what you are reading. If you like speed reading and want to read as many books as you can in a month, I do not recommend this one for you. I think you will be incompatible with the writing style. It is not good for reading styles that involve a rush to turn the next page.
You are welcome to prove me wrong though.

While this book, as the first in the series of four, may not always be the greatest read you will ever partake in, it will surely be an eye opener for you. And any non-speedreading self respecting fans of historical fiction or medieval novels should make sure they get to it.
Reading books like these will remind you of how historical fiction should be written....with magnificent languishing prose, a rich comprehension of dialogue that is untainted by modern phrases and words, depth of character and culture, with historical settings thick with local knowledge and meticulous research. And let us not forget, with an eloquence and class that I once thought had been left behind in the Classics.

4 stars out of 5.

- MM


  1. "liked"

    that is the one thing on Blogger that I don't care for, no simple "like" function. Not even a +1 type of thing. oh well.

    1. Thanks for the 'like'.
      I thoroughly agree. Blog sites need a like button!