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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998. ISBN: 0-345-40792-X

I almost didn't read this book. When I got to page 50, I decided not to read any more, using Nancy Pearl's "rule of 50." But then, over the weekend of the Fourth, I had no other light reading lying around, and picked it up again. Then I had to finish it just to see if it ever got any better, and/or how it all turned out. A mistake. This book is a big waste of time.

I only started the book in the first place because it was included in a list of titles you might read if you enjoyed Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, or if, like me, you haven't been able to get your hands on a copy yet. Two of my recently blogged titles, The Flanders Panel and The Eyre Affair are also fruits of my having hung on to that article, and there are more to come.

But don't bother with The Magic Circle, unless you enjoy the bodice-ripper literary style more commonly associated with "romance" novels. This book is more confusing than literary, more convoluted than illuminating. Take a beautiful female atomic engineer, throw in a family tree that gets more and more complicated on every page, until by the end, you're in desperate need of a genealogical diagram, just to keep track of everything, and you've only just begun. There are Native American relations on one side, Romany (gypsy) on another, with Nazi connections thrown in (Hitler himself has a not insignificant bit part), relatives both mysterious and inevitably deliciously alluring, and you've just touched the tip of the iceberg.

The book itself wanders back and forth from ancient history through modern times, sometimes told in first person, from the perspective of the people involved, other times related by a current relative or acquaintance, with little rhyme or reason guiding the process. Historical episodes feature Jesus and his disciples, including naturally, Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene, not to mention Pilate, and various of the Herods and Caesar's including Nero and Caligula, and those are just the ones told in the first person (for what reason we never understand).

Historically told we get lessons about Alexander the Great, the Trojan War, and various of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, British/Celtic druids, the Knights Templar , Attila the Hun, Tamerlane too, not to mention the Boers of South Africa, the second world war, and a good dose of Nazi occult superstition, and well, maybe you start to get the picture. Throw in settings in Idaho and Colorado, castles in Austria, Paris cafes, hotels in the former Soviet Union, and at least one character who shifts back and forth from villain to lover in every other chapter. Involved are various mysterious manuscripts, ancient totemic objects such as spears, swords and platters, geomantic ravings about lines of force in the continent of Europe, the dawning of a new age--the age of Aquarius, with a little human sacrifice tossed in now and again for good measure.

All of this is mixed together in a total mishmash that makes little sense, despite the author's desperate attempt to pull these disparate threads into some kind of sensible warp or weave, a task in which she fails miserably. As the book winds down to its inevitably romantic close, you, the reader, have no more idea what it's all been about then you did at the beginning, and neither, you fear, does the author. Not recommended.


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