Friday, 10 April 2009
The Ruby In Her Navel by Barry Unsworth
DATE PUBLISHED: 2006 DATE READ: April 2009 NOTES: This novel is set in twelfth century Sicily which is ruled by a Catholic king but the inhabitants include Muslims, Jews and Byzantine Christians. The kingdom of Sicily is gripped in religious and political intrigue as differing factions vie for supremacy. At the same time King Roger is having problems with the Pope and has worries about possible invasion or treason from within. Thurstan Beauchamp had dreams of becoming a knight but has failed in his ambition as a result of his father giving away all his land and money. So he has ended up as a valued member of the king’s finance office which is run by a Yusuf, a clever and principled Muslim who is well aware that plots and intrigues abound. Thurstan, the narrator, is very much an innocent who tries to distance himself from politics. He has naively absorbed the prevailing propaganda of the glory and brilliance of the king and of the natural superiority of Christianity. He is drawn both to Nesrin, the dancer that he introduces to the court, and to Alicia his childhood sweetheart. He genuinely loves Alicia and believes she can be the key to his eventual knighthood whereby he will regain his rightful place in society. But his innocence is his undoing….. The time and place very much come alive in Unsworth’s book. He manages to put over a fairly complex set-up in a believable and accessible way. As in The Songs of the Kings there are some definite (but not overdone) references to modern day politics such as the introduction of the Office of the King’s Fame – a twelfth century Public Relations department! An excellent historical tale which gets better as the pace picks up in the latter half.