Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: Requiem

After the recent and sudden death of his wife, Tom Webster, a thirty-something school teacher, quits his job and journeys to Jerusalem in search of an old college friend.  While venturing through the city Tom battles inner demons and experiences mysterious visions of an old woman who seemingly wants to deliver him a message.  Before too long, a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls falls into his hands, which may  be the key to translating the mysterious vision/message he keeps receiving.  Already a nearly broken man from the sadness and guilt he is carrying, Tom is driven closer to the far edge of sanity by these wild visions that may or may not be the spirit of Mary Magdalene who is trying to reveal a long covered up secret about the Resurrection.

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.

Grade: C+


Tom Lloyd said...

I'd suggest you read Memoirs of a Master Forger, which I think Joyce did under a pseudonym. I loved that, and it can be read in both fantasy and non-fantasy ways I think.

Ryan said...

Tom- Thanks for the tip. Memoirs of Master Forger sounds wonderful. It definitely sounds like something I'd enjoy.

Tom Lloyd said...

A pleasure, it deserves to have sold at least ten times what it has i think!

Ryan said...

I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

Have you read Joyce's other novels? Any of those you'd particularly recommend?

Tom Lloyd said...

I've only read Limits of Enchantment, which was very good - less of a genre novel than some of his others. Have got Tooth Fairy on my shelves somewhere and fully intend to pick up The Silent Land sometime since I've heard such good things about it.

Ryan said...

Thanks again Tom. The Silent Land is already on my list of books I want to read. I'm gonna add Tooth Fairy and Limits of Enchantment to that list too.