"Lemprière's Dictionary" (Minerva, 1992, read:
If Umberto Ecco only knew what he had started when he wrote 'The Name of the Rose'. In terms of
'Historical Novels' Lawrence Norfolk sets another milestone in this field with his story about the life and
times of Englishman John Lemprière. Since only litte is known about his real life, Norfolk takes
us and his protagonist on a tour de forçe through 17th century London with its upper class
circles, its ghosts, its thirst for science. Inbetween is John Lemprière, a young man from the Ile of
Jersey, who through his love for books has too much in his head, which makes him see things he
cannot comprehend, as well as sick. Advised by a physician he sets out to London to write a
dictionary in order to asort his visions and get his head tidied up. While he meets some very reasonable
and some very strange people, a political thriller unfolds that streches out as far India and includes
the truth about the massacre in La Rochelle in 1627, a secret society, the East India Company and
a Captain's widow with her very own schedule. Oh yes, and a flying man ... Although John is
somehow involved in all the goings-on around him through his father's past and the people he
meets, he takes no active part in them. All he ever wanted was his dictionary and the girl he loves.
In the beginning it is a very irritating book, but as the story grows so do their characters. Norfolk takes
his time to wrap us up in complete darkness and mystery and gives as much time to find the match to
bring it all to light. It is many books in one and it is really not an easy one, but it is gripping, full of
adventures and not the least very funny. It's one of those books you can hardly put aside and you
are not quite sure why.
[Jürgen Kucklinski, September 99]
"In the Shape of a Boar"
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000, read: August 2002)
"A mesmerizing novel of love and betrayal, of ancient myths and modern horrors. "In the shape of a Boar" begins in the pre-dawn of history and reverberates through the darkest events of the twentieth century. First hunted in ancient Greece, the Boar of Kalydon returns three thousand years later in human guise. The modern hunt leads from 1930s Romania to wartime Greece and finally to Paris in the1970s, where the secret of the hunt is exposed."
Solomon Memel, poet and fighter with the Greek resistance, receives world-fame with a poem about the mythological hunt for the "Boar of Calydon". Solomons youth and unplanned escape from the Holocaust in Romania, his life with the Greek resistance and his detention are the basis for his poem "Die Keilerjagd". Twenty years later, while trying to bring the poem to the screen, Solomon remembers his past and what really happened.
With many flashbacks and nestings Norfolk drives the reader through the life of Solomon Memel, who, again and again, has to hunt down his own "boars", lurking for him in different shapes. In the end, Solomon too -like his mythical predecessors- wants to vanish in the dark of the cave. For who did what precisely is not important for history, important is only the result. Not the hero counts, but the heroic deed.
In spite of several different levels of story-telling, the book is easily accessible and the reader never gets the felling of being lost. A great book about a big issue, thrillingly told and -as usual with Norfolk- perfectly researched. Even the first part, -a retelling of the boar-myth-, although described difficult by some, is grippingly told, provided one does not look up every footnote but lets oneself in on the story. A must read.
[Jürgen Kucklinski, March 03]
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