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The Troubadour by Simon Raven
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The Troubadour (1992)

by Simon Raven

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As I said of In the image of God, the last two novels in the First-born of Egypt sequence are a bit of a disappointment. Raven is still as twisted, contrary and iconoclastic as ever, and can be savagely funny when he wants to, but there is a bit too much here of the old man feeling sorry for himself — it was a bit of a surprise to me to realise that he was only 65 when he wrote this.

Anyway, it's the last act, so naturally, we start off with the forces of Good undergoing a number of serious setbacks, so that it looks as though Conyngham's victory is assured. Raven is clearly taking a perverse pleasure in clearing superfluous characters off the stage before the grand finale, and in tying up as many threads as possible from earlier novels (he even gets one character to throw in a passing reference to Raven's TV adaptation of the Palliser novels). The central image of this novel is of the medieval troubadour murdered by six knights in a Wiltshire meadow, a traditional story in the Sarum family that has already played a part inter alia in Fielding Gray and Sound the retreat.

Although the main part of the book is rather depressing — perhaps inevitably when we and the author have spent the best part of thirty years exploring the lives of these characters we are now seeing for the last time — it has to be said that the grand finale is a classic bit of Raven. We're in the same general register as the end of Götterdämmerung, but much funnier: there is gratuitous destruction, violent death, a nude game of Eton fives, and the English upper classes closing ranks to look after their own, as they have throughout these novels. Res unius, res omnium. ( )
1 vote thorold | Aug 13, 2008 |
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'Where the twins had been a body lay in long, soft robes, and by its head a discarded lute. The head was uncovered and split into halves from the apex of the skull to the bridge of the nose'. The question is whether this macabre scene is only theatre or whether it is it a sign of ill omen. In this, the concluding book in Simon Raven's First Born of Egypt saga, the fate of Raisley Conyngham, Marius Stern and other characters is decided.… (more)

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