MARTYRLAND by Robert Simpson

by JF

REVIEW: Reminds Me Why I Gave Up Fiction, though Still There is Merit to It

The older I get, the less fiction I read. After all, once you take the blinders off and you realize we are living in times stranger than anyone could ever imagine, why bother with fiction? So it’s all been about non-fiction for me lately. But I took a chance on this because it is about the Scottish Covenanters of the 1600s during their time of great persecution (1660-1688) at the hands of the antichrist system of popery. I have been wondering about them ever since I was first apprised of them in my adulthood, and I have been wondering why I had to wait until I was an adult to be apprised of them in the first place! So it is, whenever I catch scent of what smells to me like suppressed history, I chase after it. Which I did here, and that’s what made me pick up this fictional account of the historically very real Covenanters.

Unfortunately, the book is not well-written, I must say up front. It was published in the 1800s, and it is written in the stilted, average-joe writing style of the time; but I’m afraid the writing style wouldn’t have been state-of-the-art even at that time, frankly, because the best writers of the period were writing very ornately. The author, Robert Simpson, was clearly a pastor first and a writer second, for he writes ponderously and obviously, telling the reader from afar everything that is happening to his characters instead of showing the reader up close, vibrantly and interactively, what is happening to his characters. This of course was the hallmark style of Victorian Era novels, and of course this style was supplanted forever in the 20th century by the “show, don’t tell” style of writers like Hemingway; however, the better writers in the 1800s somehow still managed to make their prose feel “alive” to the reader, and this man Simpson was clearly not such a gifted writer.

Still, having said all that which is negative, there is some level of reward for reading this book, and the author Simpson was not totally bereft of writing skills. For example, one thing Simpson does that is excellent is the way he writes out the Scottish brogue of his characters as it would appear phonetically in English, so that the reader does get the unmistakeable feeling of “Scottishness” imbued in the prose; another thing Simpson does well is describe the Scottish moorland setting of the book. The reader is very much “transported” to Scotland while reading this. Now if the author would just quit with the fuddy-duddy, doddering omniscient style of narration which kills any surprises for the reader and stifles most of his interest by telling him what happens to the characters beforehand instead of just letting it happen to his characters naturally in “real reading time”–argh!

But again, stiff though it may be, there is yet another reward for reading a book like this, and it is simply this: this novel glorifies Jesus Christ, and you sure can’t say that about too many novels in these post-Hemingway, post-Christianity days, now can you?

Rating: Δ Δ Δ
10/2007

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