Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland ****

1348 - The Black Plague has reached England and nine outcasts must band together to escape the pestilence as it chases them from village to village - this is the Company of Liars by Karen Maitland - musicians, an expecting couple, a healer, fortune teller, story teller, seller of relics, and traveling side show. Reminiscent of Decameron and The Canterbury Tales, the book mixes the lives of the travelers with stories and history. A wonderfully written and researched historical novel of the plague on a very human scale.

My interest in the Black Plague has always been in how Europe changed after the death of 30-60% of the population. The balance between land and labor changed dramatically: land became plentiful and labor became scarce. This was the death of feudalism and the rise of the middle class. Company of Liars is about the experience of the Black Plague with little reflection on the longer-term effects. However, even here, the future can be glimpsed.
Who'd have thought it? This time last year you couldn't piss without the blessing of a priest; now any Tom, Dick, or Harry, even a woman, can baptize you, marry you, shrive you, and bury you. And there's the bishop saying, Go ahead, do it yourselves, you don't need a priest.
A wonderful novel of human failing and mystery.

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