herald

Saturday 1 November 2014

Thrill of foreign affairs

Set in L'Occitane during the Second World War, Citadel's narrative threads include resistance, love, loss, history, heresy and mysticism.

The book is the size of a paving slab, and the intertwining stories immediately capture a reader's interest, promising at the outset to be an involved, and involving, yarn.

There's Sandrine Vidal, who sets a whole series of events in motion whilst innocently going out for a cycle; there's Audric Baillard, a curiously spry elderly gentleman who, if he is not immortal, is at the very least a conscious reincarnation of one of the Cathars who had populated the area before being hunted down and murdered by the Catholic Church; there's the fourth-century renegade monk, Aurinius, who sets an even more interesting series of events in motion as he spirits an incendiary document across the Pyrenees. And there are Nazis!

Is there too much going on here? Divided into three weighty sections, by the time we get to the last, it feels like much of the ground in the book has been well-trodden, not only elsewhere in literature, but also within its own narrative world.

There are many novels about the Resistance but at the end of the day, one wants a little more about the mysterious parchment known as the Codex, which Aurinius had hidden for safekeeping, and for which Audric was searching.

This book was something of a paradox: I couldn't put it down, but at the same time I wasn't entirely enraptured by it.

If you enjoy the themes that Citadel explores -- setting, World War II, resistance and romance -- here are a few other novels you might find worth your time.



the city of shadows



by Michael Russell Avon 2012



€11.50 ****

1934, Dublin, and Nazi flags hang outside the Shelbourne as a group of German nationals celebrate Christmas. Detective Stefan Gillespie has just shaken down an abortionist in Merrion Square and as quickly has been shaken off the case. He's getting wrapped up in another mystery, though, one involving a missing woman, largely because the widower finds the missing woman's friend so appealing.

This is a great insight into a turbulent time in Dublin; the book is often hard going, in a challenging-to-your-heartbeat kind of way.



alone in berlin



by Hans Fallada



Penguin Classics 2010



€14.30 *****

What does it take to shake off complacency? Tragedy is certainly one of the most effective ways in which to 'wake up' and upon learning of the death of their son, a soldier in the German army, Otto and Anna Quangel begin a campaign of resistance involving postcards bearing subversive messages which they leave around Berlin.

It is a thriller, but is also a desperately moving work of art. This was first published in 1947, which is remarkable considering how quickly post-war its debut was, as remarkable a feat as achieved by the author's fictional characters.



captain corelli's mandolin



by Louis de Bernieres



Vintage 1998



€8.99 **

This has romance in it, but it's about the Italian involvement in WWII. Being on opposite sides of the conflictual equation provides the perfect degree of tension between Pelagia, daughter of the doctor on the Greek island of Cephalonia, and invading officer, Antonio Corelli of the titular mandolin.

It starts off slowly, becomes engrossing and then loses it all in the end. This title has been hyped to the stars, but it didn't take me there.



the secret supper



by Javier Sierra Pocket Books 2007



€10 **





A spawn of The Da Vinci Code, this is marginally better written and it is possible the translation is to blame for some of the, shall we say, quirkier semantic moments.

A cryptographer/inquisitor is sent by the Pope to decode the alleged secrets that Leonardo Da Vinci has embedded in his painting, The Last Supper, secrets that expose him to be a Cathar.

The artist's works in general have more to them than meets the eye. And this is a good, if uneven, read.



chocolat



by Joanne Harris



Black Swan 1999



€11.45 *****

Like a hazelnut hidden in a creamy nougat, Harris hides agendas larger than the simple arrival of a chocolatiere in a requisitely sleepy French village.

The creative, delicious female disrupts the stranglehold that the patriarchal Church has on the denizens of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, and the ensuing tempest is utterly satisfying.

Give yourself an extra star if you read this in a version that did not have Juliette Binoche on the cover -- you were ahead of the curve.

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