Requiem for a Knave by Laura Carlin – Review
By Sandra Callard
In Requiem For a Knave Laura Carlin has produced a book of great beauty and lyricism. Although set in England in the 14th century, this is not simply a historical novel – its charm and radiance resonate through the lost centuries and strike a cord with contemporary life and emotions.
Alwin of Whittaker is a young boy living and working with his mother and grandfather on a fertile piece of land in some unspecified place in early medieval England. It is the only home he has ever known and as his mother dies, imparting mysterious mutterings of a strange physical deformity that Alwin suffers from – the mystery hooks the reader immediately.
He is happy at home and loves his lot, the changes in the seasons and the animals who help make up the small farm. But Alwin’s life is about to change when his friend Father Oswald says he must go on a pilgrimage to Walsingham.
Fourteenth century life was short and brutal for many, as Alwin very soon finds out. Written and told in the first person, Alwin’s personality is imprinted on every page, and the reader becomes his silent companion as he moves through his journey and discovers monumental truths about the world, and particularly about himself.
“Swift and deft”
Alwin is a personable and attractive character who recognises his own flaws and struggles to overcome them. He is faced with horrors he has never encountered in his small life, but he also finds love and kindness in the most unexpected places. Carlin’s characters are real and we can identify with Alwin’s many problems and follow his tortuous road to enlightenment and joy.
I love the way that Carlin starts a new chapter at the point where the previous one ends. So many authors do not do this and thus necessitate a swift about turn in the mind to work out what is happening. Carlin’s story flows with an ease that is wonderfully apt. You never have to turn back and reread sections to remind yourself what is happening. This book is proper story-telling and the reader glides through it with a complete understanding of what is happening, but also a joyous wonder at how it will all pan out.
Carlin’s prose is swift and deft, with no superfluous words, which result in a story that is fast and confident and moves apace with a satisfying rhythm. There is brutality aplenty, which is never gratuitous, but it reveals among other things how knife crime is nothing new.
This is Laura Carlin’s second novel, her debut The Wicked Cometh garnered great praise, and proved she is an author to be watched. Requiem For a Knave is a beautiful, clever and exciting read, and although the differences in life, ideas and beliefs are a world away from us in this 21st-Century, our emotions, fears and hopes are still not too far apart from those of our long ago ancestors who managed to live, love, work and prosper in a world that we now would be fearful to enter.
‘Requiem for a Knave’ by Laura Carlin is published by Hodder & Stoughton, hardback £17.99