As best as I can describe it, the book is a collection of short stories, each narrated by a character in the court of King Arthur. (Guenevere doesn't get to talk, and neither does the king.) And if you open up the book when Lancelot is talking, you know the difference between him and the Green Knight. The voices are vividly different.
I say narrated, but that's not right. It's almost stream-of-concsiousness, as the characters regret and accept and anguish and plot for the future.
What damosel is this? What damosel is this?
Perhaps I am nothing but a white arm. Perhaps the body which is me diffuses at the water's surface into nothing but light, light and wetness and blue. Maybe I am nothing but samite, pregnant with silver, and out of those sleeve come endless swords, dropping like lakelight from my hems. Will you come down to me and discover if my body continues below the rippling?
I thought not.
-the Lady of the Lake
I'm sure there is a genre name for this- post-modern fantasy, perhaps- but it was new to me. Perhaps because of the drug-like quality of the writing style, or perhaps because of the jolt before dropping into someone else's head, I couldn't read it all in one sitting. I mention this because I usually do read books all at once (it's a failing, I know, PLEASE DON"T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY?) and also because did want to read more. (Unlike, perhaps, the Summa which I am STILL very happy to walk away from for a while. Just to let it sit and regrow my mind...) But yes, before I was distracted by traumatizing memories of Aquinas, I was saying I had to leave the Valente for a while, and go wash dishes or sleep or such. Reading it is just like, lighting a handful of sparklers inside your head*. Awesome, but at some point the sparklers burn out, and things have to heal before you can light them up again.
The voices in these stories are old, and weighed down with memories. In the case of the lady of the lake, they almost have no concept of time anymore, if they ever had it. They are ground down by lives, sins, responsibilities, war, the way a king will bend all the lives surrounding him around him like a knot in a board distorts the grain, by, memories and cruelty and love. (They have difficulty seeing the difference between hatred and love, in a few notable cases.)
I- am having difficulty describing this book with any degree of coherence. *deep breath*
The voices are myriad with imagery. Cunningly imaginative imagery that finds its way into your head through unexpected chinks in your bones and makes you pause days later**. The plot is a shadow that stays at your back, whispering mockingly in your ears. The individual stories, even if you've read the "originals", are horrifying and aesthetically pleasing. The whole thing is crafted, all the strands of the stories tethered secure with nails or circling with malice intent to reappear.
It's most definitely not for everyone. The story gets graphic at points. (Which, I mean, c'mon, you're dealing with Camelot here. I think their morals and little indiscretions in the river have been pretty much flaunted to every conceivable corner of the sky.) But I will say that I went through an Arthurian Stage, where I read every bit of it that was available at my pathetic library, and this is the first tale that has made me warm to Mordred, much less LIKE Morgan le Fay. (That was a freaky shocker.) Oh, and if you're looking for a Christian retelling of the Christian myth of King Arthur, for heaven's sake look elsewhere. (SPOILER ALERT: There's incest you guys. GASP.) But for pure magical prose, reading this is a good idea. It's, good. I gave it four stars out of five.
*Metaphorical sparklers. I have not ever, nor do I intend to, nor do I condone the use of; lighting incinerary devices inside of one's cranium.
That is between you and your gods. Srsly. Plz don't, I'd feel guilty, and think of the coroners! (I should have used the Seltzer Down The Spine metaphor, shouldn't I have?)
** Mordred's lies are his "other boy." Galahad talks of his father Lancelet being broken on a wheel made of women's legs- the Lady, Elaine and Guenevere. Kay sees his orders as a snake which climbs inside his armour and eggs him on, eatings its self as any part of the order is completed.