Although I started off the week with the intention of writing about older books that are worth a second look, I want to finish with one very new title. I was at the American Library Association conference this past week, and was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of Sean Pidgeon’s debut novel Finding Camlann (thanks, Golda!). Like the A. S. Byatt book I wrote about yesterday, Pidgeon’s novel deftly blends literary research, archaeology, mythology, and relationships into a satisfying and compelling story.
The Welsh have had an uneasy relationship with the English for centuries, and Pidgeon mines that rich lode for the foundation of the story. He moves easily between from the time of Owain Glyn Dŵr’s rebellion against the forces of Henry IV to the Welsh Nationalist movement of the second half of the 20th century to contemporary times. Running through all of these stories is the search for the historic King Arthur, if he really did exist.
Pidgeon’s story follows the work of archaeologist Donald Gladstone to place Arthur in a historical context. His newest book has been dropped by his publisher as too scholarly, especially in light of the discovery of some early human remains that some are claiming as the bodies of Arthur and Guenevere. Gladstone refuse to sensationalize his work, despite pressures to do so. An encounter with Julia Llewellyn, a linguist whom he met once while studying at Oxford, rekindles both their friendship and a shared interest in an obscure piece of Welsh poetry describing a lost battle. As the pair delve into the meaning of the poem, unsettled incidents from the far and near past must be reckoned with, as must their rekindled affection.
Like Byatt, Pidgeon uses a mix of narrative, letters, poems, and journal entries to shed light on both characters and events. He has a fine ear for dialog and a clear understanding of and affection for the scholarly process. You can read the book for its well-drawn characters, its crystalline language, its thoughtful telling of Welsh and English history, or its compelling plot. In all cases you will come away satisfied.
The layers in Pidgeon’s story are as complex as those of any archaeological site, and as satisfying to uncover. So dig in.
Check the WRL catalog for Finding Camlann