Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Propinquity / John Macgregor

This is the second half of a doubleshot. If you missed it, check out Pete Barber's thoughts on the same book in the post this morning.

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Kindle US:
YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


Raised in Melbourne, Australia, John Macgregor has worked as a “jackaroo” (a cowboy), a screenwriter (he wrote the “treatment” or pre-script for the Australian movie Shine which was nominated for seven Academy Awards), and a truck driver. He’s also worked as a journalist where he was “deported from East Timor at gunpoint while reporting on human rights abuses by the Indonesians; interviewed three prime ministers for major newspapers; won Australia's investigative journalism award for exposing an FBI scandal; and reported from Burma on slave labour for the New York Times.”


Propinquity charts a project by some Oxford medical students to bring a medieval English queen - buried deep under Westminster Abbey - back to life. In reviving her, the students intend to expose a 2,000-year-old conspiracy by the Church to repress gnosis - the core of spiritual teaching - to maintain its political power.”


What grabbed my attention about Propinquity, prompting me to give it a read, was its backstory. It was originally published in 1986 after winning a contest that included a publishing contract. It was acclaimed by the critics on publication, but then died on the vine when the publisher was sold. The story was said to be much like Dan Brown’s bestselling The Da Vinci Code, even though it pre-dates it by seventeen years.

Propinquity has also been described as “more literary” than Dan Brown (I imagine a lot of people saying “what book isn’t”) and that description is apt. It has the language, word choice, and sometimes lyrical use of the language I’d expect to see in literary fiction and which is, at least for me, a positive. Another quality I sometimes associate with literary fiction has been described to me as “nothing very exciting happens.” That’s how I felt the first quarter of the book where we got acquainted with the protagonist, Clive Lean, and a few of his friends who figure heavily in the story. Over the twenty-seven years since Propinquity was originally published the structure of a typical mainstream novel has changed. Gone are the days that the advice I was given as a youngster (“you can’t abandon a book for at least 100 pages, because a lot of times the story doesn’t get going ‘til then”) as the advice of “the experts” has become “you’ve got to grab the reader on the first page, if not the first paragraph” with action, conflict, or something to pull them into the story. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad development. Your thoughts on this might also be indicative of how good a fit this book would be for you. However, I’ll say that the conditioning I’ve received from reading a steady diet of more recent books and the expectation I started with of a “Dan Brown-like thriller” had me scratching my head at that first part.

And then it happened, the mystery-thriller-religious-conspiracy parts of the book started happening and the tension started building. Finally. Enough foreplay and I was into the action. While it has been too long since I’ve read Dan Brown to compare directly, I’ve read others of the type more recently and once it got going found Propinquity to be as advertised, a more literary yarn with lots of history as currently perceived combined with some alternative history (some that stretched, but didn’t break my ability to disbelieve).


Minimal adult language and some adult situations.

Uses spelling conventions and word choices you’d expect from a native Australian.
Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars


Vicki said...

Love these doubleshots. Especially when the reviews are quite different.

Excellent reviews, Pete and Al.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the input, Vicki. I enjoyed the double-shot, too. It certainly proves the adage "Horses for Courses."