Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Waste Land by Simon Acland

The Waste Land: An Entertainment by Simon Acland
review copy provided by Beaufort Books in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis from publisher website:

The Waste Land chronicles the adventures of Hugh de Verdon, monk turned knight, during        the extraordinary historical events of the First rusade.  He journeys from the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny to Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  He encounters the Assassins, endures a personal epiphany and discovers the “truth” behind the Holy Grail.
Hugh de Verdon’s tale is retold by a group of desperate Oxford professors, based on his autobiographical manuscript, discovered in their college library.  Their humorous – and murderous – story also provides a commentary on the eleventh-century events and shows that they are perhaps not all they seem.

My Take:
The Waste Land by Simon Acland was such a delight to read. I have struggled with exactly how to write about this book and my reactions to it without giving away too much of the plot. And really, this book needs to be discovered by the reader. The Prologue is enough of an introduction and build up to the story. The Prologue introduces the professors at St. Lazarus' College and their dilemma - they are in severe financial trouble and hope to obtain a large financial donation from a former student, the "Best-Selling Author", who wasn't a great student, but is their big hope. He is never called anything besides the Best-Selling Author and he too has a problem - no good ideas for his next novel. The Research Assistant - also never called anything else - has the solution: he has found a manuscript and thinks it would make a great novel. This is probably one of my favorite uses of the found manuscript plot device I've ever encountered. 

The book switches back and forth between the story of Hugh de Verdon, our monk turned knight, who is the hero of the found manuscript, and shorter interludes with the professors at St. Lazarus College. I found the sections involving the professors to be entertaining and insightful into the book as a whole. I thought it was cleverly and humorously done. The professors critique and complain and make observations about the manuscript - which is, of course, the book the reader is actually reading. Clever. Fun.

If you read the guest post by Simon Acland, you know that he is very knowledgeable about 12th and 13th Century Grail Romances, having studied them extensively at Oxford.  This knowledge of the Grail Romances is evident in the way Acland seamlessly blends the Grail legends and First Crusade history into his own tale of Hugh de Verdon and his adventures across the Holy Land. Simon Acland manages to be true to the Grail Romances while at the same time, putting a whole new spin on the legend and making it seem like it is history, not just a legend.

I really appreciated the fact that Acland didn't  try to make his story into a fanciful tale of chivalry; instead, he describes in gripping detail the brutal, violent, dirty, gross,  and frightening life that Hugh and the other knights encountered. This isn't a fairy tale version of the crusade. This is the portrayal of a violent crusade involving men who may not have had purely spiritual intentions when they signed up.

When I read The Waste Land, I read at a pretty fast pace for the story. I couldn't help myself. I tried to slow down and pick out various parts of the Grail legends, but would be swept up in the story. After I finished reading the book, I attempted to skim for specific references and for lines from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, but would find myself deeply involved in Acland's story yet again. I think that says quite a bit about his storytelling.

I don't think I have ever enjoyed an Epilogue to a book more than the one in The Waste Land. I thought it was terribly clever and funny and the perfect way to set up a sequel. 

My recommendation is that everyone should read this book and then come back and discuss it with me. I loved so many things about it, but I can't bring myself to give away some of the best bits.







Simon Acland worked as a venture capitalist for over 20 years and wrote several books on investing and leadership. The Waste Landis his first novel. For more information, visit his website at :http://www.simonacland.com/wasteland.htm

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