Reading in spite of myself

Books, like food, seem to split into several categories. There are those that are good for you but are hard-going to read (think sprouts, or whatever is your particular veg aversion), there are those that are good for you and fun to read, those that are complete bunkum but eminently readable (the naughty but nices of the book world), and then there are those that are just plain nasty and should be avoided at all costs.

Barbara Erskine's Time's legacy wasn't the kind of book I thought it was. I'd picked it up thinking that it was a crime story, perhaps partly set in the past. Quite why I thought this, I have no idea, as I had completely got the wrong end of the stick. It is one weird tale. A Church of England curate has a falling out with her boss, who is a decidedly crazy cleric, sees ghosts, and ends up recuperating in Glastonbury where she meets yet more ghosts, falls in love with a druid, and discovers the truth behind the legends of Jesus visiting Britain. It is complete bunkum.

So I should have hated it right? It's not particularly well written. The characters are cardboard - the heroine, Abi, does a lot of hair tossing and starts to wear some rather floaty garments (this is apparently meant to be horribly shocking to anyone who is C of E), Keir, the crazy cleric, runs around the countryside accusing her of witchcraft, and you can look up the local diocese's exorcism team on their "deliverance" website (unfortunately this did reduce me to helpless giggles as I had visions of Burt Reynolds dashing out in a check shirt, while playing a banjo, to do a spot of exorcism). It all sounds very silly, although the deliverance webpages happen to be true (The Exorcist would presumably be re-titled The Delivery Man, if it was made today).

The thing's great fun to read. The story may be completely daft, but it rips along at a cracking pace. You start to believe in these characters despite yourself. And if Erskine's portrayal of pre-Roman British society owes more to imagination and Arthurian legend than real history, that's not entirely her fault - there is a large gap in our knowledge of that period, and some of what she says sounds as though it could have some basis in truth. Certainly it's true that many of the tribes outside the Roman Empire were nowhere near as barbaric as the Romans painted them, they just thought about things differently to the Romans; and almost certainly had skills and talents unknown to the Empire builders.

Despite feeling it was bunk, it swept me along, and I read it in two chocolate-box filled sittings. Just the sort of book to read on a rainy weekend when you really don't want to have to face anything too serious or heavy. Great fun, and guaranteed to make you want to visit Glastonbury. Sit back, suspend your imagination, prepare to chortle (sometimes not quite what the author intended) and have fun.


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