Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Ruins

Daniel Bristow-Bailey The Ruins (2016)
This comes to me as a result of another one of those chance encounters occurring from time to time on social media - self-published but it sounded sufficiently interesting to warrant a look, so here we are.

The Ruins is apparently a work very much in progress, a hundred or so pages from what will ultimately be a much longer book. It's set way back in seventh century England as Christianity begins to make inroads by way of monks and the nobility, such as they were at the time. Our story is told from the viewpoint of the fifteen-year old son of a regional ruler sent off to Lord Norbert for baptism, possibly for the sake of politics. The setting is now so remote as to constitute a foreign country, regardless of what crappy and misleading BBC productions we may have seen scrabbling for ratings in recent years. This version of England is still partially undecided and very much divided in choosing between the most recent new-fangled theological import and men wearing antlers in the woods. The author refrains from showing off with anything too startlingly weird, instead maintaining a readable everyday tone. Chaucer-minded critics might argue that these people would not have spoken any language quite so reader friendly as we have here, but it should be noted that Bristow-Bailey eschews anything obviously crap and modern - no talk to the hand, check it out, my liege, or I'll be there for you - and I would argue that greater linguistic fidelity would have been unnecessarily distracting and ultimately detrimental to the narrative. So by focussing on atmosphere and a certain degree of historical detail so ubiquitous as to be hardly worth mentioning, The Ruins feels absolutely true to its subject.

As to what it's about, this may be too short an excerpt from the proposed whole for me to say for sure, but it feels in part like a comment on culture and human progress as a gradual process - evolution and revision rather than revolution, the new endlessly recycling the old - that which we might think we know turns out to have been something quite different.

He finds a cellar, sparsely lit by stinking tallow-dipped torches. This place is old. Older than the Romans. Perhaps they too found ruins here when they first came, and built their own temples and bath houses on top.

I could be wrong, but The Ruins is nevertheless thought provoking without seeming like it's trying too hard, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of it.

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