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4.6 out of 5 stars37
4.6 out of 5 stars
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2010
This is not just an elegant, erudite novel. It is also a genuine page-turner. Epic in scope, the story, which spans three countries and several decades, gripped me from the outset. Even though it is constructed on a grand scale, the author never loses control of his material. In fact, brilliantly, just as we are settling into a story that appears to be alternating between the first- and third-person, the present and the past, he pulls the rug out from under our feet, plunging us into the past for a sustained period and to stunning dramatic effect. This made me impatient to begin each chapter and discover where this astonishing narrative is going lead. And it did not disappoint. The climatic, Orpheus-like descent into the underworld is, quite simply, breathtaking. In short, a novel of great imaginative power, with passages of exquisite beauty that linger in the mind long after the last page is turned.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2010
Lindsay Clarke, the novelist, once said in a magazine interview I was conducting with him: `Without imagination compassion's not possible'. This is a blindingly obvious truth, but so obvious I'd never formulated it, and I've never forgotten that phrase. In a post-Enlightenment world we are taught to revere the rational mind, which of course undeniably has an essential place in consciousness, but often at the expense of the imagination and the qualities of empathy that accompany it. This seems to hold true in every area of human experience, but before I get onto a rant about the defective collective imagination, the absence of which allows us to objectify and exploit other people, species and the planet, I shall return my attention to Clarke's newest book: The Water Theatre, in which he redresses the balance. It's a book that champions the world of the imagination and the feeling nature, although never in a sentimental way; and it is also in some ways an overtly political book, in which friends oppose each other over poetry, politics and philosophy, with initially disastrous consequences; and yet at the end there is reconciliation; redemption, one could say. And growth, that essential component of human consciousness. Clarke also has so many wise things to say that the 'pull quotes' alone from the book would make a truly wise non-fiction collection on the restoration of soul to our hollow times.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2010
When I read The Chymical Wedding, I was so overwhelmed to discover that a man could write authentically about the inner life of a real woman that I wrote to the author. Since finishing The Water Theatre, I feel that numinous sense of much that is shared rising up again.
It is deeply strange when a writer conveys an understanding of experiences that you consider entirely personal: seduction into the lives of privileged others; love between men and women; internalised conversations with dead parents; the strength of the culture you are brought up in; betrayal of love. And this, to my mind, is a sign of the true artist.
Love and betrayal! How can anyone write about those in a unique way? We all love, and mostly we betray and are betrayed. However, these days we face up to our own limitations less and less. Living in the mostly secular world of 'you're worth it' and armed only with the narcissism endemic in our culture, it is becoming close to impossible to have any faith or any sense that resolution or redemption is possible. Most contemporary `art' had compounded my own cynicism to the point of crippling my capacity to believe in the possibility of authentic connection at all. And then I read The Water Theatre.
I think, then, that I cried my way through this book because its narrator is not, nor ever will be entirely crippled. Where there is beauty and true horror to be seen, he can see it. Where there is fear and terror and even deadness, he witnesses and expresses it. Where there is opportunity, he takes it.
But where there is failure, there is remorse and also compassion. He communicates all of it.
So now I think my own journey does not end where Clarke's narrative dips to its deepest despair. Always, there is another way, though we never know what it is. There is the long view. There is the whole bloody purpose of the love and the betrayal in the first place: consciousness. Something in our culture that our desire for instant gratification seems to have entirely lost sight of. Not so for Clarke. If you want to be reconnected with everything that ever mattered, buy this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 June 2011
How wonderful it is to discover a new original work from Lyndsey Clarke. Like many people no doubt, The Chymical Wedding  is one my favourite books of all time and while I have enjoyed the various adaptations of folk tales and classic myths, I was always waiting for something new, to continue this theme and style of literary fiction.

Clarke's writing is so rich and his characterisation so good, that it's almost possible to forget what is his master craft - evoking a place or a certain time. The action here switches between Yorkshire and Umbria and whether it's 50s urban Halifax, the open spaces of the moors or sultry Italy - each feels real and magical at the same time.

Both locations and characters stay with you long after finishing the book and although the pace may seems slow to some, I think most people will want to savour the atmosphere and think about the ideas that Clarke works through, with his small group of friends and relatives.

The question at hand here, is whether you can come back 30 or 40 years later and put things right. Can you change your life and realise your ambitions and desires, even if you have spent most of your life doing something else? In each of the characters' lives there have been unfulfilled relationships, due to misunderstandings or mistakes. Is it ever, too late?

Martin's journey and the mysterious ceremony at the Water Theatre seem to be the last chance for a resolution and as the story unfolds we learn all about the various characters and the events which have shaped their lives up to this point. It seems at the beginning that there is no hope of reconciliation and several times the chance seems to go by - but in the end, there is a gripping conclusion which was genuinely scarey and I don't want to spoil this ending for others, but I found it satisfying and conclusive.

The book is beautifully constructed in 24 chapters and moves effortlessly through Politics, Poetry and perhaps Metaphysics. But we are always left with the option that Martin is simply working through his 'demons' in his own mind - coming to terms with his father's death in the only way he can and his struggle is necessary to get over this and move on.

I found this book enjoyable, but very thought-provoking. It is simpler in conception, than something like the Chymical Wedding and is easier to read. But there is no lack of depth and meaning. My favourite novel of 2011 so far.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2010
The Water Theatre is another magnificent novel from Lindsay Clarke, whose The Chymical Wedding and Alice's Masque have already sent the pulses of those who love big themes unfolded in matchless prose, racing. This book is at once both his most personal and intimate, and also his most universal. To tackle head-on the pressing question of our time - how are we to retrieve our own souls and to re-make them, in Keats's sense of the world as `the vale of soul-making'? - would be virtually impossible for a lesser novelist; but Clarke succeeds triumphantly by re-creating in front of our eyes the ancient ritual of the nekiya, or Underworld Journey, by which we are intiated through a death and rebirth into the fullness of imaginative life and, finally, into our own deepest selves. By the end, exhausted and exhilirated, we rejoice in the revelation of all the secrets suspensefully witheld in the course of the story, and in the ravelling up of three lives which appear to us at first as akin to the separate threads at the back of a tapestry frame, but which, when it is turned over at the last, reveals a dazzling pattern of meaning.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2010
The Water Theatre works very well as a literary novel. The descriptive passages are rich and poetic. The plot is taut and its secrets and mysteries are skilfully unfolded. Also I'm a sucker for what Germans call the Bildungsroman, the novel of character formation usually associated with coming of age, but for Clarke Bildung is more than an adolescent rite of passage, it is a lifelong process.

The main plot concerns Martin Crowther's relationship with the Brigshaw family: charismatic political activist father Hal; son Adam as Martin's best friend; daughter Marina as Martin's elusive love object; mother Grace trying to hold everyone together. The story switches between two time frames: Martin's coming of age, and his mission forty years later to put things right between them all. The book's issues are big. For example, young Martin a nascent nature poet from a limited working class home meets the Brigshaws, and his vision of life's possibilities becomes expanded when he sees the scale of Hal's idealistic political aims, which are to be played out in an emerging African nation struggling for independence. This experience leads Martin to decide on a career as a TV journalist awakening the conscience of the world from successive international trouble spots, but this choice leads Martin to dismiss the spiritual intimations of his youth in favour of action in the "real" world. As time and events unfold it is the deeper purpose of the novel to show that attention to the spiritual dimension need not be an introverted alternative to political responsibility but could be a deeper and saner form of engagement towards those same aims.

The forty year timescale of the action allows Martin, Adam and Marina's lives to come full circle, and reach a new connection with the parts of themselves they left behind on becoming adult. The polarity of Martin and Adam - how they mirror and live inverted versions of each other's lives - reminded me of Herman Hesse's Narziss and Goldmund, and like Hesse, Lindsay Clarke dives deep into the mythic patterns of life. The strength of this book for me is how Lindsay Clarke managed to set these mystical concerns alongside a realistic view of the twentieth century horrors of war, famine and genocide. It's usual when finishing an engaging novel to feel at the end the loss of this imaginary world. The sign of a really special novel is when something remains - the inspiration that comes from being exposed to the inner workings of someone else's spiritual journey, the recovery of the sense of the deeper purpose of life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2010
Having finished reading Lindsay Clarke's phenomenal and intricate new novel a few days ago, I am still living in its glow.
While immediately caught up by the story and the relationships, I was struck by the fine quality of the writing, of the strength of each word doing its work, conveying meaning while engaging the senses. Whether the author is describing landscapes, writing of love with the lightest of touch, moving the story on by conversations, taking the reader back in seamless shifts in time or plunging into physical or mental darkness, the experience is deeply felt. Don't rush with Martin to the end of his journey, to the blazing simplicity of the last lines, to the sun at midnight. But one can always set out again, confident of gaining greater insight into the complexities of being human in our world. Lindsay's dedication to the written word and to the expression of the imagination in its highest form, exemplified in `The Water Theatre,' is a gift to us all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2010
In the second half of The Water Theatre I slowed down, not wanting it to end. Rich in imagery and ideas, this novel poses big questions - about ties to place and family, about how we relate to the worst in the world, about age, loyalty, disappointment, and about what is personally and collectively forgivable. The narrative spans four decades, giving us the panorama of time passing and life lived, as well as the intensity of the present. Martin's relationship with his father is painfully convincing, as anyone who has tried to let go of their parents or overtake them will know. The other main characters are equally flawed and lovable. One thing I loved was the way dreams and other fruits of the unconscious had a natural place in the characters' lives and the storyline. The spirit of this wise and generous book is summed up for me by Thomas Hardy: `If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2010
Lindsay Clarke writes books about just how immensely precarious a project it is to be a human being -- a human being, that is, living a fully and intensley engaged life with all the idealism and prejudices, pitfalls and passions this naturally involves. The story of the protagonist Martin Crowther, and the other equally compelling characters with whom he forms powerful attachments, takes the reader on the uplifting and painful journey of his development, but with such attention to the ideological and emotional detours along the way that you feel every bump and sudden turn in his circuitous trajectory towards disillusionment and, ultimately, forgiveness and maturity. The sense of seeing how things, in a very real way, must go wrong, along with being able to identify very much with the youthful longings, heartful ideals, and deepening complications -- these things pull you in, you relate to it, and find you are just possibly working something out for yourself as you delve deeper towards resolution. This is what Lindsay Clarke is so good at -- involving the reader in all the complex challenges and passion of the human journey. The story is both brutally sad, and yet also authentically optimistic. For me, that's why it has a real ring of truth. When you read The Water Theatre, as with his second novel The Chymical Wedding, you know you have been someplace profound -- and then returned, gracefully, and drenched with thought-provoking gratitude for the experience which remains for a very long time. Congratulations to the author -- the long wait has been more than worthwhile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2010
Lindsay Clarke's last successful novel, The Chymical Wedding, was published in 1989, and it has been a long wait since then for his new novel. Not that the intervening years have been wasted with his masterly retelling of the Parsifal myth, and his sublime 2 volume recreation of the story of The Trojan War. But we lovers of fiction like a good-sized page-turning novel to get our teeth into, and this is a full meal with all the trimmings.
Set in two time periods - the late 1950s and the 1990s - the story follows the growth to awareness of Martin, a working class lad from Yorkshire who is profoundly influenced by the Brigshaw family in his adolescence, father as mentor, daughter as object of desire and son as best friend. Forty years on, in Italy, he tries to undo the damage that has been done, the lies that have been told, and the misapprehensions that have lingered over the decades.
For a serious book, this is a compelling read. There may be those who yearn for the self-absorbed pretensions of a McEwan, Amis or Rushdie, but I have an old fashioned preference for a story with real characters and a plot that keeps you hooked up to the last page, especially when it's written by someone who knows how to write.
I would compare it to a John Fowles novel - if I wanted to flatter John Fowles - but Clarke is less self-conscious than Fowles ever managed to be, and a much more straightforward story teller.
For an intelligent, thought-provoking and compelling novel, look no further.
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The Chymical Wedding
The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke (Paperback - 1 Aug. 2010)

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Alice's Masque by Lindsay Clarke (Hardcover - 6 Jan. 1994)

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