Thursday, December 19, 2013

For Philosophy Readers Only

Source: Author Website

Propinquity by John Macgregor (1986; CreateSpace, 2013, 366pp.)

Propinquity is a slow-burning contemporary novel that follows the life of the young, wayward Clive Lean, an Australian medical student who wends his way through existence before stumbling upon a conspiracy involving London’s Westminster Abbey, the religion of Gnosticism, and an 800-year-old cryogenically frozen saint.

Unbeknownst to most people, Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard the Lionheart, lies entombed beneath the Abbey in an underground chamber. As we later learn, she was something of a heretic and the disciple of an East Indian Gnostic, but her followers saw her as a sort of female Christ-figure. Yet, as the members of Monty Python are fond of saying, she’s not quite dead—just lying in a drug-induced coma (and there are members of the Holy Church that want to keep her that way). When Clive learns of the location of Berengaria’s body from his girlfriend, the daughter of Berengaria’s caretaker, he and his medical school buddies take on the challenge of trying to resurrect her.

Some have compared Propinquity to The Da Vinci Code, which was published some 17 odd years after Macgregor’s novel. Whereas The Da Vinci Code is all plot and little substance, Propinquity is mostly substance with a dash of plot thrown in—in other words, it’s a novel of ideas and philosophy. There is no real definitive action in the first third of the book. The novel simply coasts along, following various characters as they navigate the course of their offbeat lives, before introducing us to the defining plot element in Chapter 9. It was only after Clive announces his plans to resurrect Berengaria and attempts to put those plans into motion that the novel had my full and undivided attention. However, his plans turn out to be not as important as what Berengaria stands for (Gnosis) and its place as a theme in the story. As I was reading the book, I thought, “There really is too much background story before the interesting part.” But having finished the novel and considering its literary quality, perhaps it’s just the way it should be.

In the end, I’m not quite sure I’m the best person to review philosophical novels. Some parts just went right over my head, and I still couldn’t tell you what Gnosis is, even after reading a dumbed-down explanation of it on the Internet. The reader who will appreciate this novel will be someone who is interested in philosophy, is patient, thoughtful, and overall, open-minded. Propinquity is definitely an interesting read, but overall not recommended for consumers of mainstream/commercial fiction.

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