Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Towers of Trebizond

This is another Strand sidewalk sale book. The edition I have was published in 1960, four years after it was published in the UK I believe. It looks like the most recent publication was in 2003 by the New York Review of Books. Written by Rose Macaulay, whom I had never heard of. Apparently she published thirty-five books. Wikipedia tells us:

The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay's final novel, is generally regarded as her masterpiece. Strongly autobiographical, it treats with wistful humour and deep sadness the attractions of mystical Christianity, and the irremediable conflict between adulterous love and the demands of the Christian faith.

Reviewers have described Macaulay as "one of the few significant English novelists of the twentieth century to identify herself as a Christian and to use Christian themes in her writing." Rose Macaulay was never a simple believer in "mere Christianity," however, and her writings reveal a more complex, mystical sense of the divine.

This is far more information than the book itself provides, as the publishers (Meridian Books) have committed what I, as a book buyer, consider one of the cardinal sins of cover copy. They haven't provided any information on what the book is about. On the front they have the title and, "a novel by Rose Macaulay," and on the back they have quotes and information on the publishing company. So looking at the back I know that, "all Meridian Fiction publications are contemporary works of literary distinction deserving the broader readership made possible by paperback editions," but I don't know anything about the plot of the book.

The quotes on the back provide confusion as much as anything else. In the New York Herald Tribune, Maurice Dolbier--this dates the book as the Herald Tribune folded in the 1960s, modern editions merely quote Dolbier without mentioning the publication--tells us that, "The Towers of Trebizond is not an encyclopedia in disguise. It is a novel, and a good one." Well that's nice to hear, but why on earth do I need to be told that it's not, "an encyclopedia in disguise?" Maybe when it was published this description made a lot of sense. But now? Perhaps by people who know more about books than I do. For me, digging through boxes of books, this was a statement more confusing than anything else. Which isn't so bad when you're paying fifty cents for a book but would otherwise annoy me to no end. Either way, it doesn't exactly sell me on the thing.

So I bought the book solely on the strength of the first few sentences. Which are fabulous.

"Take the camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. The camel, a white Arabian Dhalur (single hump) from the famous herd of the Ruola tribe, had been a parting present, its saddle-bags stuffed with low-carat gold and flashy orient gems, from a rich desert tycoon who owned a Levantine hotel near Palmyra. I always thought it to my aunt's credit that, in view of the camel's provenance, she had not named in Zenobia, Longinus, or Aurelian, as lesser women would have done; she had instead, always called it, in a distant voice, my camel, or the camel.

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