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To Calais, In Ordinary Time (2019)

por James Meek

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1275166,907 (3.81)21
Three journeys. One road.England, 1348. A gentlewoman flees an odious arranged marriage, a Scots proctor sets out for Avignon and a young ploughman in search of freedom is on his way to volunteer with a company of archers. All come together on the road to Calais.Coming in their direction from across the Channel is the Black Death, the plague that will wipe out half of the population of Northern Europe. As the journey unfolds, overshadowed by the archers' past misdeeds and clerical warnings of the imminent end of the world, the wayfarers must confront the nature of their loves and desires.A tremendous feat of language and empathy, it summons a medieval world that is at once uncannily plausible, utterly alien and eerily reflective of our own. James Meek's extraordinary To Calais, In Ordinary Time is a novel about love, class, faith, loss, gender and desire - set against one of the biggest cataclysms of human history.… (mais)
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    Morality Play por Barry Unsworth (CarltonC)
    CarltonC: Another to imagine a believable medieval world In England
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Mostrando 5 de 5
A wonderful story and a wonderful read. We follow the journey of a motley group of pilgrims attempting a venture from the Cotswolds, England to Calais, France, in the year 1348. Among our group:

- Lady Bernadine, daughter of Lord of the manor in the small town of Outen Green, who ventures forth to escape an odious arranged marriage and chase down her erstwhile paramour, Laurence Hacket

- Laurance Hacket, who is eventually encountered and added to the group, who turns out to be perhaps not all Bernadine hoped for and dreamed of

- Will Quate, good-looking young labourer, whose bondsman/freeman status is vague, and who journeys to Calais to join the fight against the French as an archer

- Hab, lowly pigboy back in Outen Green, who follows Will because he's in love with him, and spends most of the book cross-dressed as his "sister" Madlen

- Thomas, Scotsman by birth, now scribe and proctor of a church in Avignon, France, to which he now hopes to return (I wasn't clear what brought him to England in the first place)

- A band of archers with whom Will has thrown his fate, each one more grotesque and morally questionable than the last

- Cecile, or "Cess", a Frenchwoman raped and abducted by the archers back during their last round of fighting in France, now a captive of one of them, the one who goes by the name of "Softly"

But I encourage you to Google "1348" and "plague" to see the main character of the story. OK, never mind, I'll tell you: in 1348, the Black Death arrived in England.

The story is good enough, but what is hypnotic is the writing. Will, Hab/Madlen, and the archers speak an English untouched by any French or Latin. Bernadine's speech is replete with French flourishes, Thomas' with Latin. But to the lowly, words we today find mundanely English such as "doubt" or "punish" have them staring with incomprehension, protesting, "Too many French words for me".

The story's narration takes place alternately from the perspective of, and in the language of the archer contingent; Thomas; and Bernadine/Laurence. Here's a random sample of the writing when the archers are the focus:

"The drum beat faster, Mad sang of a freke who went with an elf, and Sweetmouth hopped with two high-born maids who laughed so hard they had to hold each other to keep from falling over."

And Bernadine:

"'Had I passed Laurence a message saying I desired him to ravish me of my family and marry me in secret, I'm sure he would have responded.'"

And Thomas (whose passages are all excerpts of missives he is writing to two people back home named Marc & Judith):

"'What, Judith, is the significance of my indulgent confession that I desired to be desired by you, carnally as well as spiritually?'"

There's just a taste of how the story goes. I thought the switching between the different voices, which is done frequently, sometimes three times per two pages, was a wonderful device for moving the tale forward, and I delighted each time in hearing the different perspectives. The characters of Bernadine and Madlen were particularly deep; Laurence comical, seeming closest to a modern-day personality; Thomas a bit inscrutable (he'd like that word). I admit I had a little trouble juggling all of the archers' backstories, real names, and "ekenames" (nicknames). Follow them all through the English countryside, and try not to freak out too much as you watch "the pest" (pestilence) following them as well... ( )
  Tytania | Oct 21, 2020 |
A really enjoyable and informative book about a group of archers from the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire travelling to Calais in 1348, two years after the battle of Crécy in which English archers had been instrumental in the defeat of the French and the capture of Calais. Joining their party for protection is a student (Thomas, with all students being clerical at this time), a runaway would be bride (Bernadette, whose “amour” is going to Calais) and a swineherd (Hab, who loves one of the archers ).
Meek uses multiple narrators, some archaic language to heighten our sense of historical distance and, at times, the telling of past events, to create an absorbing story, which also makes you appreciate the differences (and similarities) of medieval life.
Some may not like the use of different voices to tell the story from several perspectives, but I found this excellent in creating a believable other place, other time.

Epigraph:
God is deaf nowadays
Langland - Piers the Plowman ( )
  CarltonC | Jun 9, 2020 |
To Calais, in Ordinary Time is one of those books you enter like a world and realize you want to remain in. To Calais is set in the 14th Century as the Black Death arrives in Britain, so that wanting to remain is very conditional. One doesn't want the death, the brutality, the disrespect for women—but one does want the pacing and the unexpected relationships that form and the ethical considerations faced when every act (or absence) is seen as God's will.

To Calais follows an unusual cohort traveling south to the ports, so the members can sail to Calais for a variety of reasons. There are experienced archers who've fought in Calais earlier and who embody a volatile mix of brutality and honor; a woman these archers raped and abducted the last time they were in France; a young woman escaping marriage to a much older man; a neither-priest-nor-scholar intellectual, charged as the group's spiritual advisor; a young peasant newly joining the archers; and a swineherd in love with this peasant, alternately appearing as himself and as his "sister" Madlen, in hopes of winning that beloved's affections.

Watching these characters define themselves, both individually and in relation to one another, is fascinating and, at times, heart-rending. The language of the novel, which uses older word forms and highlights the difference between the English-English of peasants and the French-English of the nobility, slows the pace a bit in ways that are appropriate to the gradual speed of the journey the characters are undertaking. And, amid all the seriousness and exploration of the complexities of identity are generous moments of humor.

The experience this book offers is surprising, deeply engaging, challenging, and rewarding—a blend of all the best fiction has to offer.

I received a free electronic ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. The opinions are my own. ( )
1 vote Sarah-Hope | Feb 26, 2020 |
Bernadine is fleeing a marriage that she does not want when she falls in with a band of archers heading to the coast to catch a ship to France. Amongst them are a young man looking to buy his freedom from serfdom and the pig-boys' 'sister'. As they journey from the Cotswolds to the port of Melbury they are unaware that a greater peril is travelling in the opposite direction.
Set at the onset of the Plague in the 1340s this is a book which warrants reading. The language is difficult, written in historical style rather than modern English but the rich cast of characters make this worthwhile. The rough nature of war is prevalent, as is the second class nature of women in the Middle Ages, but the looming terror of the Plague overshadows the tale as life will be changed forever. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Nov 1, 2019 |
Fantastic, compelling account of medieval England under the threat of plague. A group of archers are travelling through southern England to meet a boat. They fought at Crècy but are barely clinging on to their status as a team, with the biggest split over one man's kidnapping of a young woman they met in France. A young man is sent to bolster their ranks, under the promise of freedom, whilst a young wealthy woman is also on the road running away from a forced marriage. The story alternates between narrators, reflecting the changing English language. There's frequent references to the "villains" not having a clue what the elite are saying in "French" (much more recognisable English).
Through the very different characters, the author weaves into the narrative understandings of courtly love, medieval Christianity, controls on rural workers and the horrific effects of such a devastating disease when there was no understanding of how it was caused or why some survived. I've never read anything like it, but would love to read more. ( )
  charl08 | Sep 30, 2019 |
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God is deaf nowadays --William Langland, Piers Plowman
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Three journeys. One road.England, 1348. A gentlewoman flees an odious arranged marriage, a Scots proctor sets out for Avignon and a young ploughman in search of freedom is on his way to volunteer with a company of archers. All come together on the road to Calais.Coming in their direction from across the Channel is the Black Death, the plague that will wipe out half of the population of Northern Europe. As the journey unfolds, overshadowed by the archers' past misdeeds and clerical warnings of the imminent end of the world, the wayfarers must confront the nature of their loves and desires.A tremendous feat of language and empathy, it summons a medieval world that is at once uncannily plausible, utterly alien and eerily reflective of our own. James Meek's extraordinary To Calais, In Ordinary Time is a novel about love, class, faith, loss, gender and desire - set against one of the biggest cataclysms of human history.

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