Quest for an ex­otic ad­ven­ture

Jose Borgh­ino

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

FAN­TASY is the new black, again. At this mo­ment in the lit­er­ary pen­du­lum swing, vam­pires are back in vogue, keep­ing the run­way warm for the next reap­pear­ance of the dragons, trainee wizards, hob­bits and talk­ing lions that, it seems, also re­cur at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals.

Books such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code op­er­ate at only a slightly less fan­tas­ti­cal pitch, fill­ing gaps in our his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge with a kind of funny putty that mixes equal parts wish­ful think­ing, ra­bid para­noia and nar­ra­tive mo­men­tum.

Martin Davies’s novel The Uni­corn Road oc­cu­pies a dif­fer­ent level in this realm of fan­tasy, one that is less over-egged than its con­tem­po­raries but still has a for­mi­da­ble pedi­gree. Tak­ing as its motto L. P. Hart­ley’s dic­tum that ‘‘ The past is a for­eign coun­try: they do things dif­fer­ently there’’, this kind of writ­ing harks back to me­dieval ro­mances and even fur­ther to an­cient trav­el­ogues such as The His­to­ries of Herodotus.

The Uni­corn Road may re­fer back in time but Davies is canny enough to build into his story a cou­ple of con­tem­po­rary pre­oc­cu­pa­tions — China and Is­lam — and to keep the writ­ing plot­driven and evoca­tive.

The nar­ra­tive has a dou­ble struc­ture. In the mid­dle of the 13th cen­tury, an English mer­chant is wait­ing in Mus­lim Malaga in the south of Spain, hop­ing for news about his son Bene­dict, who trav­elled east­ward years be­fore and has not been heard of since.

In chap­ters that al­ter­nate through the book, the fa­ther trav­els to Granada and back, meets a range of colour­ful char­ac­ters and un­cov­ers the

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.