Monday, February 27, 2012
Book Review: Requiem
Ever since reading The Prestige, people have been telling me that I need to read something by Graham Joyce because he too can deliver a great fantasy tale that reads like "literature". After some research, I figured Requiem would be as good a place as any to get a taste of Joyce's material. What I found here was some strong prose and yarn-spinnin' ability, and a story that reminded me a bit of The DaVinci Code...except much more skillfully written and with more magic.
The biggest problem I had was that I never really felt that engaged by the characters or the plot. Tom Webster is a total wreck of a man, he's a shitty husband, burnt out teacher, and there's a chance he's slept with one of his students...not exactly a laundry list of things that make me want to root for the guy. Though I didn't care for Tom, I will say that he was a well developed character, just not one I cared about.
The other characters, namely his friend Sharon whom he visits in Jerusalem, wasn't that easy to relate to either. When I can't connect with characters I experience a detachment from the story, and sorta go along with the flow, but never really get fully immersed in the narrative, and that was definitely the case here.
In the past I've been at least intrigued, if not enthralled by stories that tend to debunk or "spit the truth" about various spiritual/religious faiths, figures or events. With that in mind, I figured the plot of Requiem would be entertaining for me, but I can't say that I ever got that into it. This is partially a byproduct of the fact that I couldn't connect to the characters, but when major plot events would turn up, I was mostly ho-hum about it all.
For me, the most interesting aspect of the book was the slow unraveling of the story of Tom's past. Joyce was quite masterful in slowly revealing what exactly happened with Tom's wife, why he quit his job, and whether or not there were illicit liaisons going on. Sadly, this was more of a side plot and mostly served to explain Tom's frail mental state throughout the book.
Joyce clearly put in a lot of research effort into Requiem. There were times when I really felt like I was in Jerusalem. In the scenes where Tom is wandering the streets, Joyce bombards the reader's senses with tons of stimuli. Joyce also handled the psychological unraveling and analysis of Tom quite well. This was the one area where I actually felt a connection to Tom, as I got a sense of how mixed up his head was. I still didn't really like the guy though, and I certainly didn't care much about what happened to him.
In the end, this one wound up as a mixed bag. While there were some aspects of the book that I thought were handled well, I still didn't connect emotionally with the characters or the story, which left me with a mostly hollow reading experience. Joyce is a strong writer, I think Requiem just wasn't for me. This one does have plenty of strengths, and I think it could be enjoyed by other folks.