Wednesday, 9 May 2018

CATHAR by Christopher Bland

Cathar by Christopher Bland
Written with a sharp and deft hand, Cathar is the story of not one, not two, but, um, well I forgot to count, so let’s just say it was written in the voices of maybe as many as ten first-person points of view. 
For some this works and they do not flinch. For me, it was an overwhelming flood of voices and it made the book not as enjoyable as it could have been.

Francois is your main voice. And from the book’s blurb, I was under the impression that he would be the only voice. I feel the blurb should have touched on this not being the case. He gets the most talk time in this tale of Cathars during the terrifying reign of the Inquisition, but he is nearly lost at stages under the chattering of all his friends, lovers and acquaintances.  

I think that if, like me, you get put off by more than two first-person points of view in a novel, then perhaps if you go into this at least expecting the multitude, it will set you better on your reading path. I was not expecting it and this worked against it…for me. If I had known, things may have gone down differently.

I was very much enjoying the early stages of the book when it was only Francois, so to then have it abruptly change to another character’s first-person narration was a surprise. Then every time you meet a new character, that character eventually shows up in first-person as well. And that first-person narration is nearly always just a retelling of a scene already described by one or more.

I understand what the author was trying to do. He was trying to give the publishers a unique voice. The unique voice that they say you can’t get published without. I commend him for giving it a red-hot go. He nearly pulled it off for me, and for some – those who have no issue with the multiple first person narrative style and the story line that never really had energy or reached a climax – he has indeed pulled it off. In fact, I know some who really liked it. So, you just never know who will like Bland’s narrative style and who will not. 

It may sound like I disliked the book and oddly, despite the review being written here, I did not dislike it. 
I should clear up this vagary...
I felt it was well written. As I said at the opening of this review, it was a sharp and deft style. A style I admired often as I read the book.  Sometimes it was quite beautiful. The plot wasn't really on fire. It was very melancholy in tone and was lacking in energy, but a lot of the time, this was not of detriment to the story. It kind of suited it. Although, sometimes it made it boring. I won't avoid mentioning that.

I give it 3 stars, which means simply, I liked it. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I liked some aspects, I disliked others.  I got annoyed with it at times, bored at other times, but entertained at others.  I am glad I read it. It was something different. I learned a lot about Cathars, who are a people of history that I knew pretty much nothing about initially, and I also learned that apparently in these times women can have lots of sex over long periods of time and never actually get pregnant...hmm…what is their secret?

I also learned that multiple first-person points of view are most definitely not for me.

-  MM

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