I mentioned some posts ago that I'd managed to get my hands on a future favorite novel of mine. I had the feeling I'd probably like the book, based on only a short description of it. I finished reading it last week and oh my, what a treat! A future favorite has transformed into a current one, based on the excellent reading experience I had.
The book I'm talking about is Keith Roberts' Pavane, originally published in 1966. It's a skillfully written alternative history, which starts at the assassination of Queen Elisabeth I in 1588.
The author, however, doesn't remain in the 16th century for more than the short prologue's worth. In the next part of the novel it's already 1968 and the most sophisticated technology available in England is the steam engine. The catholic church has restricted technical advancements, for example by limiting the use of petrol for fuel.
Roberts paints a fascinating image. He builds a picture of a 20th century world, which in almost all details reminds me more of descriptions of the world of 16th through 19th centuries. Semaphores are clacking away all around England as the most efficient form of communication. The early experiments with electricity and communicating with its help are labelled as heresy and necromancy. The catholic inquisition is in full strength, with all the horrific forms of torture and punishment still in use. When the actions of the court of inquisition are questioned by a lonely monk, an underground movement of somewhat protestant thoughts is born - and duly hunted down by the mother church. Occasionally the reader will, however, notice a surprisingly modern detail, like among a crowd of peasants a girl wearing jeans.
Alienation works miracles in this novel. I found it extremely challenging and refreshing to compare the two worlds, the novel's reality and my own, while I read. The familiar modern reference points were so few (those jeans I mentioned, electric light very late in the novel and so on) that the world was truly strange and I was a stranger in it.
Towards the end of the novel it's revealed that there is a character, who seems to be aware of both realities, the one that could've happened (in other words, the world as our history knows it) and the one that happened in the novel's world. When he reveals this, the reader is once again amazed. Or at least I was.
Through the entire novel I had been in a way "properly horrified" by the idea of such a backwards world - a world without cars, airplanes, pop music (you know, the Beatles and such never existed in this novel) and so on, that it seemed natural to consider it the fault of the catholic church.
I have to confess I didn't think it'd be shown to me that maybe, just maybe, the slow advance of technology and science was actually in many ways good for mankind. Or what say you of a world without Auschwitz, without Hirosima, without nuclear power, without our current problems with, say, the greenhouse gases? What if the catholic church in the novel wasn't the ultimate baddie preventing scientific breakthroughs, but instead an organisation that was trying to protect people by delaying certain advancements till a time when the world would be better prepared for them. The thought made me stop for a while.
In this world of tech-adoration it was honestly a treat to get food for other kinds of thoughts, too. And even though the novel is already almost 40 years old, it's still very current and has lost none of its effectiveness. I strongly recommend you go and read it, because we all deserve the opportunity to rethink our world a bit. An excellent alternative history, in other words. I think I'm going to have to buy it for myself, so I can go back to it again later. I've got a feeling this novel didn't tell everything it had to say on this first round of reading.
In other news, my goddaughter was "officially" named this past Friday in a small family ceremony at Sarin&her hubby's home. I had been given the honor of delivering the speech, which served as the actual naming ceremony. I told Sarin when she asked me to give the speech that I would do it, but that I probably couldn't do it without turning into a sobbing mess. Unfortunately, it turned out, I know myself too well... First three words into the speech and I was already crying. For some reason this situation seemed to be one of the most emotional I've ever faced. I've managed to stay dry-eyed through several weddings now, but giving a name to a child was clearly more emotional. I suppose I knew too much of the background of the story and that made me (empathetic as I am) choke in tears.
I'm glad, however, that despite my teary-eyed performance little Aure's family seemed to like what I had to say. And I hope to god that not one of those several cameras present at the ceremony were filming video clips...