From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
A tormented poet and his young mistress seek the answers to the mysteries of alchemy in the wilds of rural East Anglia. Thrust into their stormy existence is Alex Darken, also a poet, also subject to the lure of magic and mysticism. They hope to find the answers they seek by studying the lives of the Agnews, a father and daughter who lived in the area a century and a half earlier and who also sought the secrets of alchemy. Lives separated by several generations begin to mirror each other as the fabric of time is shredded by spiritual visitations. Clarke's twin narratives alternate with each chapter. Although he seems to take eternities to reveal distant secrets, the determined reader will eventually discover a superb mix of fantastical, realistic, and historical elements. The Chymical Wedding finally reveals a sinuous, aching beauty in its languid and graceful pages. --Peter Robertson
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
With something for everybody, Lindsay Clarke's novel offers gothic melodrama as well as nuclear disaster, the casting of fortunes with Tarot cards as well as the analysis of psychological dilemma in Jungian dreams, a Victorian love story of a "blue-stocking" spinster and a wife-deserted parson as well as a modern love story of a cuckolded poet. Victorian and modern stories are linked through the search of the central characters for the ultimate clue to the nature of "the chymical wedding": the necessary union of the "magic" of spiritual belief with the earthly "magic" of the forces of nature. Set in an East Anglian village where the chief adornment of the ancient church is an obscene female figure of unknown provenance, both the Victorian and modern strands of the novel keep exploring the dangerous imbalance of forces in a patriarchal society. Clarke has drawn all of this into his splendidly paced novel, whose disparate elements work together to compel our attention and earn our understanding of the novelist's vision of human wholeness. Highly recommended. -J. Sudrann (emerita), Mount Holyoke College
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British author Clarke adroitly interweaves two parallel stories in this long, richly atmospheric novel in which the ancient science of alchemy plays a critical role. In alternating chapters we become acquainted with two triangular relationships, one occuring in the present, the other a century earlier. Alex Darken, a blocked poet, comes to a village in Norfolk where he meets once-famous poet Edward Nesbit and his young lover, Laura, a student of parapsychology. The two are researching the lives of Sir Henry Agnew, an elderly metaphysical poet, and his learned daughter Louisa, whose treatise The Chymical Wedding meets the same sad end as her relationship with married rector Edwin Frere. The tragic fates of the 19th-century trio are gradually spelled out as the modern characters find their lives taking a similar turn. The air of mystery pervading the novel, its leisurely pace and mystical theme may remind readers of the works of John Knowles. As the narrative progresses, however, the descriptions of alchemic rituals become a bit tedious, the telling overwrought, the symbolism a bit too facile. For much of its length, however, this is an involving narrative, and readers may forgive its faults for the imaginative story it tells. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved