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Review: Morality Play, by Barry Unsworth


Pages: 188
Original date of publication: 1995
My edition: 2001 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, Piccadilly, London, September 2011

In the late 14th century, a young, errant cleric comes across a troupe of traveling players. One of their party has recently died, and the cleric, Nicholas Barber, steps in to play parts. Their travels take them to a town where a woman of the town has recently murdered a young boy, apparently. Although players in the middle ages only focused on religious subjects, this troupe decides to stage a theatrical version of the murder as a Morality Play. But as they perform it, they discover that the truth is far from what they thought it was.

I thought it was a great idea—and I love everything related to the middle ages, so I thought I would love this book. But I didn’t really. It’s a short book, but it drags in places due to the author’s laborious attempt to sound like a medieval person. There’s a heavy-handed amount of foreshadowing; I stopped counting how many times the narrator repeated the words “if we had only know…” or something to that effect.

But in other aspects, the author recreates the late 14th century very well—this was just after the plague had hit Europe again and as a result everything changed. The sense of confusion that people felt at that time is perfectly reflected in the characters and the setting of this novel. At the same time, though, the book seemed suspended; only references to the recent plague give the reader a general idea of the time. Still, though, I didn’t feel myself getting invested enough in the characters or what happened to them; as a result, I found myself skimming the book.


Comments

Dear A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore...

I'm an author with a new collection of short stories, Ugly To Start With (West Virginia University Press).

Will you please consider reviewing it?

I've been writing and publishing for twenty years--more than one hundred stories and two novels--and Ugly To Start With is my best work.

My first novel, The Night I Freed John Brown (Penguin), won The Paterson Prize for Fiction and was recommended by USA Today.

My short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. Twice I have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

If you write me back at johnmcummings@aol.com, I’ll send you a PDF of my collection for your consideration.

At this point, my small publisher is out of available review copies, so I hope and politely ask that you consider the PDF.

I would be very grateful.

Thank you so much.

John Michael Cummings

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