Wednesday 1 April 2009


This novel by Kate Mosse was recommended to me by Enjah and HBA, and though I meant to borrow it from the library before my trip, in the end I did not have time (Anil's Ghost will be overdue when I return to Los Angeles on April 18) and packed Laurence Stern's Tristram Shandy and a recent biography of Charlotte Cibber (the actor's daughter who famously dressed as a man on stage and off) in its stead. But Sepulchre was on display at an airport kiosk within sight of my departure gate, in paperback, so I took it as sign. Figuratively speaking of course.
I finished it last night. Set in Paris and the Languedoc with characters and story arcs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with two related female lead characters guided by a strong tarot motif and supernatural events, the story has obvious similarities to my own memoirs (or the other way around, but I naturally think of it this way). I was delighted to discover there is still a readership for this kind of material, for I suspect that the gothic thriller is an outmoded genre, leaving us with today's flat, action-filled mongrels like the Da Vinci Code. (This story was clearly written for the Dan Brown crowd, and that book's theme is even explained in precis by one character to another.) On the other hand I became alarmed at the number of similarities in the tales: especially when Leonie says to Auric Baillard, "You are not French!" for I said the very words to Madame Boucher! But in the end it is a quite different tale, and told in a different manner.
The author prefers to endlessly inform us what her characters are thinking when one would be happier if she just showed us in dialogue. The reader doesn't need to be bludgeoned with symbolism and portent. Indeed the dialogue moves the story along quite well on its own, but her exposition lacks art. One suspects there is no poetry in the author, no delight taken in setting a scene, dwelling on a detail, exploring a moment. The story gets from point A to point B in a very businesslike fashion. One looks in vain for moments that shimmer, that offer a sudden insight into the character or place. But for all her characters' churning thoughts, fears, doubts, hesitations, guessing and supposing, the book would have been half as long, and better by far. At last I found the story predictable and contrived, the language awkward, and I finished it to better study what I must learn to avoid myself in my writing. It was instructive.


Enjah Mysterio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Enjah Mysterio said...

OK I will try again:

Well and incisively reviewed ... it is plot driven, definitely. No character is fleshed out, as you say, repetitions in the wording. There was overuse of the word "judder", for example.

We never find out why she and Hal are attracted to one another, and the young girl Leonie is IDIOTIC.

Another irritant was the references to Paul Foster Case; she tells us that he linked colors, musical notes and the Tarot; then she misquotes his work. For my taste, if one is planning to refer to something that is historicallly true, it should be rendered faithfully. The rest, the fictions, can be as wild as the author desires.

It is engaging nonetheless, but leaves the reader craving better stuff. Now it is up to you to provide what we so desperately need: mysterious historical fiction that is good writing!

HBA said...

I reccomended in via Mrs Antfarm - but it turns out I had my facts crossed and my wires wrong - she'd never read it :)

I say read Star of The Sea - I loved it :)

Ellen McCormick Martens said...

I am terribly embarrassed to have recommended this book to you.