Sunday, March 23, 2008

1007. Flying to Nowhere

flying to nowhere

This is weird little book by the author John Fuller that I have had on my bookshelf for a long time. I originally bought it for two reasons. First, because it was compared to Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" and second because it was short. Strangely, in all the years that have passed, I never got around to reading it.

So finally, I got to it. And I read it. And let me tell you, it's one weird little book. But let me start at the beginning. What is the plot of this book? It starts with the approach of Vane, a church representative send by the Bishop to a local monastery on an island near the coast of somewhere or other. Three monastery novices go to meet him at the dock, but not the Abbot of the monastery himself. Meanwhile, the peasants of the island look up from their field work and see disaster, because as the large boat approaches, Vane's horse (which is on the boat as well) is unnerved and tries to get off. The oarsmen have to cut him loose. The approach to shore is dangerous and steep and lined with rocks and so the horse drowns.

This is not the first pitfall that befalls Vane, the church inquisitor, come to investigate rumors and allegations at the monastery. He wants to learn the fates of pilgrims who have come to be blessed by the waters of Saint Lleuddad's spring. Does the Saint's well water possess the ability to cure all ills? But if it does, why haven't any pilgrims ever returned from the island? Vane, the church administrator as well, wants to find out about how the Abbot runs his monastery, and about rumors of improprieties, and whether the novices are truly novices or just servants.

So with this background an interesting tale, a mystery if you will begins. Thankfully it is a short book with a few other minor characters beyond Vane and the Abbot. There is the mysterious Manciple, and Mrs Ffedderbompau and Tetty and Geoffrey. But Mrs Ffedderbompau is important for the sort of prophetic vision she has, while Tetty, one of the girls under her protection in the village on the island runs off with Geoffrey. It all becomes too convoluted after a while, and suffice it to say, I would be giving away too much if I tell you what sort of power the waters really have. In truth, the Abbott is not an Abbott anymore, as he abandoned religious study for study of a different kind, many years ago. Vane's search for the truth might uncover that, but the island might try to hide that truth from outsiders, might try to protect its secret.

How did I like this book? In many ways, you can say this book is allegorical in nature. It speaks to our search for immortality and eternal wisdom not only through religion, but through the everyday rituals we perform. It is also an allegory about the power of belief in the saving grace of something beyond us. Of course, if you're already searching for something beyond, then you almost always either believe it exists, or want to debunk it. Does the Abbott want to debunk the power of the Saint's well? Does the church's representative, Vane want to believe? The opposite? Or are they both wrong? Are the inhabitants of the island of the Well Spring the only believers? And why does Tetty and Geoffrey reject the power of the island? Do we reject the obvious around us in everyday life?

As I said in the beginning, this was thankfully a short book. It was also a bit muddled, and difficult to get through. It's only upon reflection that I can think of these thoughts. Still despite some positive achievements by the writer here I can't in good conscience give this book more than 2 stars.

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