March 2012

Freddie Watson was thirteen when his beloved brother George was killed with most of his Royal Sussex Regiment at the Battle of Boar’s Head, known as ‘the day Sussex died’. Always second best in his parents’ eyes, Freddie desperately missed the only person who had ever loved him. While celebrating his 21st birthday, as his mother sharply requested he ‘at least pretend’ he was having a good time, he collapsed with a nervous breakdown.

Ten years later and still in delicate health, Freddie is traveling through France on the way to meet friends when he crashes his car in the mountains. He finds his way to Nulle where he feels an odd affinity for ‘this forgotten village, with its air of having been left behind.’  Everyone is preparing for the fête de Saint-Etienne, when it is customary to dress as townspeople from the past. He is invited by his kind landlady to join the village celebration and, while hoping for not much more than a hot meal, he meets the enchanting and clever Fabrissa, a young woman with an uncanny understanding of his past.

Mosse is skilled at evoking winter woods, a lumpy bed, damp tweed drying by a fire, a nighttime walk through cobbled streets. She undoubtedly knows the customs and geography of the region very well. Not all of us were taken with Freddie, however, nor convinced that his story and the story of the 14th Century Cathars melded well, but quite a few of us had looked further into the Cathars’ beliefs and history which resulted in the most animated part of our discussion.

Published October 2009 and marketed as a cozy Christmas ghost story, it is, at worst, a hastily cobbled together exploitation of Mosse’s Labyrinth fame and, at best, an evocative tale of a man learning to live in the shadow of grief. The Book Circle’s opinions ranged generously along that scale.

We next meet on Thursday, 12th April to discuss The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell, shortlisted for The Best of the Booker.

 

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