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Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Dark Twin, by Marion Campbell, Reviewed.

Hailed, on the front cover, as ‘An adult fantasy in the great Tolkien tradition’, this novel disappointed on a number of levels. So much so, that I couldn’t be bothered to get past page 67 of 249 pages. It was clearly much applauded at the time of publication in the 1970s; described variously as ‘beautiful’, ‘fascinating’ and ‘a harsh elemental poetry’, by reviewers in the major newspapers. Either they read a different book, or I failed to find the elements they drew from the pages.

The language is ‘beautiful’ and there are undoubtedly ‘fascinating’ elements in the tale and some of the events are harsh and poetically presented. But the parts do not seem to add up to a ‘whole’. In fact, I found the narrative tedious, the attempt to weave a mystery out of the incomprehensible lacking in enough intrigue to make me want to read on. Fantasy, of this type, is traditionally a depiction of life in an invented or imagined landscape and is generally built on ancient and well understood themes. Tolkien, with whom this author was compared, dealt quite obviously with the battle between good and evil and set his tale in a land similar to our own Earth, peopled by humans, hobbits, elves and dwarves along with all those mystical and fabulous creatures he borrowed from the myths of Northern Europe. But I was at a loss to understand where this tale was leading and what themes drove it. Had there been some indication that I was, at least, being taken somewhere of interest, I would probably have stayed with it. But I felt I was in an endless exposition describing the arcane customs and rites of some civilisation I found difficult to comprehend and that I was being led into a maze with little hope of discovering the whys and wherefores before being abandoned without any solution.

The nature of the story, such as it is, told in the form of a narrative, initially with dialogue only sparsely used to relieve the monotony of the first person narrator’s description of his life of harsh instruction, quickly began to bore me. I didn’t need endless hints about the corruption, bullying and deception of the ruling individuals; so much was clear. I would have liked a little more indication of the motivations that drove the protagonists, beyond the evident ambition of the priesthood. I would have liked a spark of rebellion or, at least, questioning, from the two young boys who were being raised for positions of rule; something to make them interesting. The ‘gift’ of foretelling and farseeing seemed small reward for the level of deprivation visited on the victims.

In short, I was waiting for something to ‘happen’. I think the main problem with the narrative was that I was ‘told’ so much and ‘shown’ so little, that I felt ever the observer, the voyeur, and never a participant, never even an involved bystander. Only the singer, Felim, brought any contrast to the otherwise unmitigated misery of the tale. A touch of lightness, some hope, an indication of something better to come, might have kept me turning the pages. But, in the end, I felt unwilling to spend any more of my precious time on this depressing story that seemed to be going nowhere.

No doubt fans of the author, of which there may well be many, will castigate me for a fool and a dullard for failing to recognise the magic they have found. But I can judge only on my own terms and, as a reading experience, I found this disappointing, dull and lifeless. Sorry, but there you are.

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