The Rebel Angels (King Penguin) Paperback – 29 Jun 1989
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Two professors--one a goodhearted priest, the other a dabbler in the darker arts--becomes involved with graduate student Maria Theotoki, who knows the gospel of the angels who betrayed heaven's secrets. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In the Rebel Angels, Roberston Davies has created an intricate web connecting the threads of science, superstition, scholarship, desire and friendship. Davies uses the most base of themes: scatology, pornography, mysticism and vanity, woven together with the most elegant of prose, to confuse the reader. His exuberant writing style and eclectic cast of characters suck you into the narrative while obstinately obscuring his message until the final brilliant denouement.
Three cloistered scholars, a brilliant Mediaevalist, his Vicar contemporary and his Venus-like protégée are brought closer together by the discovery of a Rabelais Manuscript which threatens to undermine the cornerstone of their academic reputations. However, their comfortable existence is disturbed not by the contents of the manuscript, which are tantalisingly kept from the reader, but by the seemingly innocuous arrival of the brilliant but evil Brother Parlabane.
Unable to overcome the weight of his intellect and personality, they reluctantly indulge what they think to be his attempts at intellectual banter and his frequent demands for financial assistance. As they continue to indulge him, he draws them deeper into his world, a world populated by scepticism, deceit and decadence, but also by an intellect greater and far more dangerous than each of their own. As he digs beneath their outward characters and unearths the darkest undercurrents of their lives, they are rendered impotent in their dealings with him.
Against this backdrop of misdirected brilliance, the protagonists fall into profound despair at their inability to control their destinies and their desires turn to obsessions, their pride impeding their ability to see what is obvious to Parlabane, that they have only one intertwined destiny. They contemplate increasingly desperate measures to achieve their ends: witchcraft, murder, and an appeal to a self-educated investment banker, the symbol of all that is alien to their cloistered university life. Their attempts prove futile but they gain something far more substantial as they start to question the empirical certainties of their academic life and gain more insight into their characters, their "roots", than they had thought possible.
They journey blindly towards a final dramatic climax when Parlabane presents to them a truly Rabelaisian platter comprising all that they think they desire only for their world to collapse around them and for them to finally awaken to the dangers created by their individual obsessions. Only then does the reader truly understand the precarious position their unfulfilled obsessions, covertness and arrogance have placed them in.
He was a fascinating writer with a wide range of interests and knowledge whose books show this combined with immense readability.
I bought The Rebel Angels (1st part of the Cornish Trilogy)because I had lent out my previous copy and it didn't come home!
For me his 3 trilogy's and 'The Cunning Man' are all 'must have's' in my bookcase.
It is a flight of fantasy, for lovers of John Irving and the best introduction to Robertson Davies that there is.
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