Review: The Winter Ghosts

The Winter Ghosts
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third Kate Mosse book I’ve read, following Labyrinth and Sepulchre. It’s much smaller than these two and was a very quick read. It has it’s historical roots in the persecution of the Cathars, like Labyrinth, and in the post war period. As before she utilizes a way of writing continually slips between both time periods. She isn’t merely working to the same formula, however, but introduces the exploration of recovery after emotional upheaval and bereavement as well as ghosts. Yes this is a ghost story – not a horror story but a romance, yet still a little unsettling. I came away wanting to know more and to experience a further development of the interaction between ghost and living, but this is no bad thing. I’ve grown to enjoy her writing style and will definitely look out for more by her. I would love to see her turn her hand at writing a fuller ghost story; she certainly has the knack of getting the mood and colour just right.

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Review: Sepulchre

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was leant a copy of this after reading Labyrinth, the first book in the trilogy, and as in the case of the first I thoroughly enjoyed it. Mosse’s writing is very engaging, reminding me of Joanne Harris. Whilst the setting outside mediaeval Carcassone is smaller in scope, the plot and characters easily compensated. Some have grumbled about the inclusion of many French and Occitan phrases. I wasn’t put off by this; although there was quite a bit I didn’t understand, the language helped set the feel and context of the story, and make it a different world. I shall certainly look out for the final installment, confident that it will be worth reading!

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An Open Secret

Church Newsletter article for 18th September 2011

I’ve just finished reading the best selling novel ‘Labyrinth’ by Kate Mosse. This is a gripping thriller set simultaneously in mediaeval and modern Carcassone, France. In it, the main character Alice discovers hints and echoes of an ancient story, a story of inquisition, heresy and sacrifice and finds herself drawn into it with dramatic consequences. The way she sees the world will never be the same again. I must confess that I loved it – I was drawn into it, fascinated by the culture and story it explored.

I’m not giving away anything by saying that it the mystery at the heart of the book involves the Grail – this is revealed in the strap line on the cover. Since the mediaeval days this book looks back to, the story of the Grail has fascinated people. What happened to the cup that Jesus used in the Last Supper? Did it survive? If so, where is it now? Does it have ‘magical powers’? Alongside those stories that place the Grail within Christian tradition, there are those tales that take it outside orthodox understandings of Christianity, suggesting that it reveals a different truth about Jesus and has to be hidden to keep that secret safe from the Church who wants to suppress it.

There’s something about human nature that attracts us to the idea of hidden knowledge, of illumination for those who unravel concealed secrets or move into inner circles of knowledge. This has always been the way – the downfall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is because they were tempted by the forbidden fruit, that of the knowledge of good and evil. There are scholars who believe that many of the New Testament books are written in response to Gnosticism, a movement contemporary to the Early Church that believed in salvation achieved through obtaining special knowledge. Our tendency to gossip is perhaps an expression of this; ‘did you know…’ expressing the power of the one gossiping who has special knowledge the other isn’t yet privy to. Such approaches to faith are attractive to those who hold them because they mean those who belong are part of an exclusive club; they are special because they are in, and everyone else is less important because they are not.

What is surprising about the Christian faith is that it doesn’t work like this. It is not an exclusive club, it is inclusive (and maybe, ironically, this is why some struggle with it, see 1 Corinthians 1:18+). There is no special knowledge to be discovered, no secret ritual to perform, no lifestyle to be obtained. To become God’s children we need simply trust in Jesus and his life, death and resurrection. It is through him that we become special, and he is not hidden but there for all to see and respond to. Let us strive in our lives to be open to all as he is, and to not deny others by our attitudes or lifestyles.

Review: Labyrinth

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up a copy of this book – I knew nothing about it except that it was popular and had an intriguing title. When I looked closer at the cover and saw that it was about ‘Three secrets. Two women. One Grail.’ I winced – too often novels about the Grail are simply ‘New Age’ conspiracies and not very good ones at that. Still, decided to give it a try. Glad I did! Yes there is a Grail Conspiracy here, and plenty of heresy to boot (which it doesn’t claim as real world truth, so I can live with that), but there is also a gripping story, set it Carcassone both today and in its Occitan past. This is a place and era I know little about, and just as the Swedish in The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo gave that book a particular feel, so to the smatterings of French and Occitan, and the place names a very evocative descriptions did the same here. I found myself drawn in quickly and read with enthusiasm. I will almost certainly go away and read up a little more about the place and time that this book describes. Personally I found the end a little unsatisfactory, but to be honest, that didn’t matter too much, as the journey there was a good one, and often the journey is the thing, rather than the destination. I’d happily recommend it, and will look out for other books by Kate Mosse in the future.

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