The Orpheus Descent

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At first sight this is a conspiracy novel of a type familiar over the last ten years. An archaeologist/researcher-of-some-sort discovers a treasure/secret and runs against rival forces trying to steal the treasure/guard the secret. In one variant of this genre, of which this book is an example, two stories are told in parallel: one set in the near past in which the finders of the treasure/secret battle with the opposition, and the other set in a more distant past telling how the treasure/secret came to be hidden.

The modern-day strand of The Orpheus Descent tells the story of an Englishman (a musician, of course) searching for his wife, who has gone missing on an archaeological dig in Italy. The historic strand concerns an Athenian philosopher, ca. 500 BC, who is wandering through the Greek colonies in Italy searching for a lost friend. One expects the plots in conspiracy novels to be complex, but I must admit that I lost this plot completely about two-thirds of the way through. I was not helped by the propensity of the characters, both modern and ancient, to engage in long philosophical arguments and experience strange hallucinatory dreams. The novel culminates underneath Mount Etna – yes, literally – when the husband rescues his wife from a vent in the volcano during an eruption.

The book is beautifully written, and there is a fine sense of place in the Greek and Italian locations. You may well enjoy it, even if you don’t understand it.

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12 of the best stories selected from the 2012 Historical Novel Society Short Story Award

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Price
(UK) £16.99

ISBN
(UK) 9781444731354

Format
Hardback

Pages
496

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