Taking as its starting point marginal images in the Bayeux Tapestry, which have been left largely unexplained by historians, Terry retells the story of the Norman Conquest from the point of view of the tapestry's English embroiderers. Combining magic realism and Oulipian techniques, this is a tour de force of narrative and language. Philip Terry was born in Belfast, and isTaking as its starting point marginal images in the Bayeux Tapestry, which have been left largely unexplained by historians, Terry retells the story of the Norman Conquest from the point of view of the tapestry's English embroiderers. Combining magic realism and Oulipian techniques, this is a tour de force of narrative and language. Philip Terry was born in Belfast, and is currently Director of Creative Writing at the University of Essex....
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This is a fun novel, but then I am biased, for it deals with the fascinating Bayeux tapestry. Although I got a folded reproduction of this embroidered frieze when we visited the Bayeux Museum last July, I think this beautiful artwork deserves closer attention.This is the folded booklet in a corridor with its own tapestries.and a closer upI have ordered this book The Bayeux Tapestry so that I can study it more closely. The visit to the Museum was certainly worthwhile and I had wanted to go for years, but they have arranged the visit of the numerous tourists with audio-guides. These are certainly instructive, but they also make you move along. Detaining to ponder any given scene was not easy and clearly uncivil.I plan to reread the novel after I have a deeper knowledge of the Tapestry. The book will be even more enjoyable. I may revisit this review then.
Tapestry by Philip Terry was shortlisted for the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in 2013 and, as part of my quest to read all the shortlisted books, is 23 out of 24 for me - only the ominously long and repetitive looking Red or Dead to go.The novel is inspired by the author's own curiosity about aspects of the Bayeux Tapestry from his time living in Normandy. Largely designed as, in his words, "Norman military propaganda", closer inspection of the Bayeux Tapestry shows several curious and unexplained designs weaved in amongst the main story, typically in the borders. Historians tend to ignore them, write them off as decoration, or explain some (reasonably) as references to Aesop's fablesThe best known / most infamous of these is that of "ubi unus clericus et Ælfgyva" (tr: a certain cleric and Ælfgyva)[image error]But Terry's alternative hypothesis is that these unexplained elements and decorations, even the apparent allusions to Aesop's fables, are actually subversive messages from those, likely English, embroiders who actually made the tapestry. There is no proof of this, hence why Terry decided to explore the idea via "a work of fiction which by an act of imagination is able to go where historians cannot follow, for want of evidence."The framing device of Tapestry (pun intended) is the story of the English nuns who are commissioned to embroider the work to the design of a Flemish woolwright working for a Norman bishop. As they sew, they tell each other tales of their lives post the Norman conquest and how thy ended up in the abbey, through the elements they have added to the original design. The resulting style with multiple narrators has deliberate echoes of The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron. The most obvious influence, one acknowledged by Terry, is Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies, except here it is the tapestry, rather than tarot cards, that are used to share stories.The stories that are told are a mix of magic realism (another acknowledged influence by Terry) and down-to-earth brutality. The reader isn't spared details of the rape and pillage the victorious Normans are claimed to have inflicted on parts of the population, but equally the nuns have a strong belief in supernatural forces on their side. Terry has chosen to write the story in a pseudo-language of his own with words from those languages at the time - Old Norse, Anglo Saxon and ancient French - interwoven together to form a tapestry of text. The result is surprisingly easy to read, as the following passage demonstrates, by sounding it out loud. Three Tales Concernyng King Harold or Gunnrid the Grinders StoryYoure alle wonderyng, I know – for I cant help oferearyng your wild whisperyngs – whi oon of the last scenes of the tapestryIs the oon Ive been workyng on first. I mean that where King Harold meets his death. Theres no mystery here. As with the snakeOuroborus, which clasps its tail in its muthr, so with endes and beginnyngs: the two are often oon and the same, be quiet Ebba.We alle know the foolish story spread by the Normans regardyng the death of Harold on Senlac Hill,And Ive shown him here as in Turolds design, struck down by the fatal arrow. Yet of course, this isNo thing but the flimsiest propaganda, a cheap conjuryng trick to rob us of oure king, and of oure hope, so help me God.Look closely, then, at my tapestry figures and youll see not oon, not two, but three men with theyr augas pierced by arrows.Two of them, oon on five-toes, carryyng a mace, oon mounted on a chestnut mare, flee the battlefield on the rightOf the picture – here – pursued by four mounted Norman knights and oon archer. Exceptionally, he too is on hrossbak –Such is the urgency of the situation – and he grips the flanks of his mount unsteadily with his thighs, as he prepares to unleash his dart.Who are these figures? What is theyr story? A very similar approach was followed by Paul Kingsnorth's 2014 novel The Wake (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), also set in the aftermath of 1066 and also shortlisted for the Goldsmith's Prize, although Kingsnorth's approach was bolder and a little harder to master.The Three Tales Concernyng King Harold postulates Harold surviving the battle, but three different men, two decoys, fleeing the scene of apparently wounded by an arrow in their eye, and three possible fates. The neatest of the three stories thas one possible Harold ending up as a wandering minstrel in a show where he plays King Harold who, having successfully fled the battlefield incognito ends up as a wandering minstrel in a show ... etc, in a rather Borgesian twist. This post-modern twist on an ancient tale is all part of Terry's design (again pun intended). As Director of the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Essex he is a keen proponent of Oulipo. This novel also shows Oulipan influences, but more at a micro level, borrowing techniques such as some of those used in Queneau's Exercises in Style [e.g. one story where nouns are followed by a synonym, another where consonants are transposed - grilpims for pilgrims, ferpection for perfection, philoposhers for philosophers, murtoil for turmoil] rather than as an overriding macro constraint on the book. The main narrator renders battle "batalle" - the French words bataille but with the i missing (eye missing - geddit!). And two of the stories are part retellings of Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast: which at first seems a deliberate anomaly, since the versions we know are based on tales written down in 1812 and 1740 respectively, but as researchers believe the origins of the latter, for example, date back 4000 years (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35358487) such tales could easily have been told 1050 years ago.Overall - an innovative and fascinating approach to story-telling. As often with experimental works, if one strips out the innovation the resulting story is relatively insubstantial but even at that level it is an interesting insight into live for the defeated Anglo-Saxons in the aftermath of William's victory.References:A Youtube video of a talk from Terry on the novel from which my comments on his views are drawn (albeit unfortunately without the visual presentation he provided of the tapestry) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tr_3...Helpful reviews: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/materi... and http://www.stridemagazine.co.uk/Strid...A visual guide to the tapestry, useful while reading the novel:http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/Baye...
This is a very enjoyable read. It's narrated by one of the English nuns tasked with creating the Bayeux Tapestry. It is written in a cod Olde Englishe - but don't let that put you off as once you get into the rhythm of it, it's very readable. Here's an example:"And then, I spent what tyme remegnd bent ofer my desk in the scriptorium, labouryng ofer the prayer-huses chronicle which I did my best to keep up to date, frettyng for lang hours ofer how mych weight to give to a particular incident, from what angle best to prevent anothir. As I workd I often wishd that the abbess were at my side to offer me a guidyng five-finger, for while I had som experience of copyying word-hoards I found I had litell skill at copyyng from nature, and the way forward often seemd blockd."This may seem an affectation, but I found it worked very well for this story - it serves to highlight how very 'other' the past can be. There are very few words that aren't immediately obvious, and these few soon resolve themselves once read in context.Each nun embroiders some of the creatures and scenes that appear in the margins of the so-called tapestry, and each has a tale to tell about them. All of these tales weaves itself into the whole of the story in a very effective and entertaining way.Very clever, very enjoyable, and pictures too!
I have to explain something before I jump in to things – I score my ratings based on how readable a book is, and this one was damn near impossible to get through. That’s not because it’s badly-written – in fact, it’s incredibly well-written, but the language is tough because it’s written according to the dialect of a time when a bunch of nuns were working on the Bayeux Tapestry.Confused? Let me give you an example of the writing: “Sche arrives during the niht, between the hours of matins and lauds… and quickly the rumour spreads from lit to lit lyk wild-fyr: Aelfgyva has come home!” It’s a bit like reading Trainspotting, you have to use your brain to understand what’s happening – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you should prepare yourself and bear this in mind before you start.Once you get past the language, which is deliberate and one of the delights of Terry’s work once you get in to it, it’s actually quite an enjoyable read – another great example of Reality Street publishing innovative work. But the problem with being innovative is that it’s not always guaranteed to make you appealing to everyone – if you get a copy of this and you really love books then stick at it, it’s a long old read but it’s well worth it in the end.