Another title for Best Books list!
The Plot: Cal is one his way to live with his successful uncle, leaving behind, forever, his past; especially his mentally ill mother. Cal, in confusion, gets off at the wrong train stop and finds himself at a feast, where something is expected of him, but he remains silent rather than following his instinct. He awakes to find himself in an abandoned house; was the night before all in his imagination? Cal finds his way to his uncle's house and has to determine whether he does have a quest to follow; or whether, like his mother, he is slipping into mental illness.
The Good: Fisher is one of my favorite writers. She succeeds with both multiple volume fantasy and, as here, stand alone books.
Fisher visits and reinterprets the Perceval legend.
Cal is caught in a loop of feeling sorry for himself, and then people not understanding, so he feels even sorrier for himself. It's hard to write a character like this sympathetically; it has to be done in such a way so that the reader doesn't want to slap the person and say, snap out of it already! It has to be done in a way that the reader feels as sorry for the character as the character does; the author has to bring the reader along to feel the self-pity and agree with it, almost to the point that the reader doesn't realize that self-pity is what is happening. Fisher succeeds wonderfully; not once did I want to shake Cal. Fisher has created Cal's truth so it is real; his hurt, his betrayals, and his wounds are real.
And they also can all be traced back to the Perceval legends. But don't worry; if you're not familiar with the stories, the book still works.
Fisher leaves it up to the reader to determine: is myth real? Or is Cal mad? Is there truth to his visions? Either way, Cal has to decide what his future holds: to escape his self and his past, pretending they don't exist? Or to embrace that past? Is his quest madness?
And now with the quotes:
And it t seemed to him, with a shiver of fear, that he had done it again, walked straight out of the normal world into some other that was always there waiting for him, in his mind, at twilight, on borders and boundaries, shadowy crossroads.
The music was loud. It swallowed everything. It blocked out the whole world. It was a great orchestra and choruses of voices, men and women, conflicting and chiming and rising and falling with each other. He didn't know what they sang about, only that it was passionate, it was pure and holy, it could protect him, that while it played he couldn't hear the phone, feel the bruises, didn't have to remember his mother, the guilt, his fear of sliding into mental illness.
As Cal struggles with his visions and his quests, he encounters reenactors who are King Arthur and his men reborn. Or are they? Cal confronts one: "Besides, if you really were Arthur's men you'd be asleep in some cave til people needed you." Kai flipped the soap. "Ah, the dear old cave. Trouble with that was, people always need us. They need someone to fight their nightmares for them, the dragons, the black knights. They need dreams to dream, quests to follow. Or they get trapped in the world. Like you."
Links: a BBC interview with the author; meaning of Corbenic; the Wands and Worlds review; the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone review.
I'm interested in watching The Fisher King, which I understand uses the Perceval story in a modern setting.