Recommends it for: ladies who have large handbags Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: general ubiquitousness in charity shops Oh the inner turmoil. Did I enjoy Labyrinth by Kate Mosse or not? Hold on Archaeology ladies get into all sorts of European adventure hi-jinx Oh the inner turmoil. More murders, maniacs, manoeuvring and mendacity than Murder on the Orient Express.
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Published on Sat 13 Aug The story - a quest narrative set simultaneously in the 13th century and the present - concerns the safety of a set of crumbly books containing eternal verities that date back to ancient Egypt.
The books belong to the Cathars, a sect active in medieval Pyrenean France who represent tolerance, ecumenicalism and all things nice in fact, at times they resemble nothing so much as go-ahead Church of England curates in a multicultural urban parish. The baddies are the northern French, who disguise their greedy designs on the rich agricultural land of the Languedoc by using the language of religious orthodoxy and the cultural authority of the inquisition. What really marks Labyrinth out is the fact that all the main roles - goodies as well as baddies, historical and contemporary - go to women.
The baddies, meanwhile, include Marie-Cecile, a French businesswoman who is after the books and who you know is evil because she wears sophisticated linen two-pieces that never seem to crease, despite the sweltering heat. Virginia Woolf once wrote of wishing that she could push a plug into the wall of various places where she had lived as a way of accessing all those layers of drama and conversation that she believed were sealed up there, waiting to be tapped.
The languages that Mosse channels through her magic plug include both French and Occitan, and she sprinkles her text with them very effectively, simultaneously signalling that the past really is another country, rare and strange, and that, at the same time, it is open to the possibility of being read, understood and learned from.
For if you take away the foreground story about the quest for the books, what you are left with is a resonant account of the first European genocide - more than a million Cathars died as a result of what became known as the "Albigensian Crusade" - fuelled by the language of fear and hate dressed up as religious piety. But Mosse wears her learning so lightly, knitting her historical research so neatly into her narrative, that we never get the slightest sense of being preached or lectured to.
In this she is reminiscent of those twin goddesses of popular historical fiction, Jean Plaidy and Mary Renault, both of whom managed to convey the texture of various patches of the past with such rich complexity that they were responsible for turning more young women on to history than anyone, including the girls themselves, would probably quite like to admit.
Castles in the air
Their aunt was involved in the campaign for the ordination of women and her grandfather was a vicar. She left publishing in , for a writing career beginning with the non-fiction, Becoming a Mother. She then wrote two contemporary novels. Eskimo Kissing, about a young, adopted woman searching for her background, was well received when it was published in