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Agincourt: A Review


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt. New York: HarperCollins, 2009., p. 451. $27.99.

 

Cornwell’s historical novel of the 14th century battle at Agincourt had the potential to be remarkable. Cornwell writes well. The battle was significant in the overall strategy of Edward III during the “Hundred Years War.” I was looking forward to a carefully researched portrayal along the lines of what Ron Hansen usually gives us in a historical novel. Unfortunately, I found Cornwell’s predominantly gruesome and sensational. Not that I have a weak stomach or can’t abide “reality.”  Agincourt is full of fortuitous gore and profanity as well as expendable images of rape and perversion. These scenes may have been the reality. Yet, we have no way of knowing for sure (except from the
author or more careful study of the time period portrayed). More likely they are crafted and constructed with contemporary cinema in mind.

 

Many movies (and novels) today–it’s almost a maxim–must appeal to the hysterical vulgarity of twenty-first century American society. Films, even the good ones, tip their hats to our culture’s schizophrenic preoccupation with sex and violence, especially its sadistic voyeurism. Following how may otherwise excellent movies have we asked ourselves, “Why was that scene necessary?” I found myself asking the same thing at several points throughout the novel. Seems that many modern authors have traded the subtle art of insinuation for the
unimaginative and obscenely lurid.

 

Plot is paper thin. They story moves but does not convince. Rather, too much needless personal detail among slim historical pickings. Very little by way of history, though apart from the sights and smells of battle, a quick and active narrative.

 

Characters remained undeveloped. Cornwell follows his bowman through the gritty battles leading up to Agincourt. But we never really feel we know him. Women are used as motivation for gratuitous violence. The author did make good use of his knowledge of the weaponry and accoutrements of that period. A medieval glossary could have proved helpful.

 

Unfortunately, Cornwell has succumbed to the spirit of the age. The story could have survived without much that Cornwell seemed to enjoy giving us. What little he gave on one page, he took away on the next. Meager by way of literature that could last.

 

So here’s a historical novel otherwise interesting. Yet, I am prevented from being able to recommend it to those who look for distinctive historical insight in a good story.

 

Agincourt: A Review


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt. New York: HarperCollins, 2009., p. 451. $27.99.

 

Cornwell’s historical novel of the 14th century battle at Agincourt had the potential to be remarkable. Cornwell writes well. The battle was significant in the overall strategy of Edward III during the “Hundred Years War.” I was looking forward to a carefully researched portrayal along the lines of what Ron Hansen usually gives us in a historical novel. Unfortunately, I found Cornwell’s predominantly gruesome and sensational. Not that I have a weak stomach or can’t abide “reality.”  Agincourt is full of fortuitous gore and profanity as well as expendable images of rape and perversion. These scenes may have been the reality. Yet, we have no way of knowing for sure (except from the
author or more careful study of the time period portrayed). More likely they are crafted and constructed with contemporary cinema in mind.

 

Many movies (and novels) today–it’s almost a maxim–must appeal to the hysterical vulgarity of twenty-first century American society. Films, even the good ones, tip their hats to our culture’s schizophrenic preoccupation with sex and violence, especially its sadistic voyeurism. Following how may otherwise excellent movies have we asked ourselves, “Why was that scene necessary?” I found myself asking the same thing at several points throughout the novel. Seems that many modern authors have traded the subtle art of insinuation for the
unimaginative and obscenely lurid.

 

Plot is paper thin. They story moves but does not convince. Rather, too much needless personal detail among slim historical pickings. Very little by way of history, though apart from the sights and smells of battle, a quick and active narrative.

 

Characters remained undeveloped. Cornwell follows his bowman through the gritty battles leading up to Agincourt. But we never really feel we know him. Women are used as motivation for gratuitous violence. The author did make good use of his knowledge of the weaponry and accoutrements of that period. A medieval glossary could have proved helpful.

 

Unfortunately, Cornwell has succumbed to the spirit of the age. The story could have survived without much that Cornwell seemed to enjoy giving us. What little he gave on one page, he took away on the next. Meager by way of literature that could last.

 

So here’s a historical novel otherwise interesting. Yet, I am prevented from being able to recommend it to those who look for distinctive historical insight in a good story.

 

My Name is Asher Lev


 

I really enjoyed reading Chaim Potok’s, My Name is Asher Lev.

 

It has been written somewhere that “We read to know that we are not alone.” The struggle between faith and art drew me through the book. I wanted to know if his experience was like my own. Of course, he was an artist and I am a writer. But, the creative process and how that process affects those around us, those we love, is the same. Asher’s drive to create seemed compulsive, but perhaps that’s the way of genius or the experience of a prodigy. Not many of us fit in that category of artist.

 

I think most of us have to work at it. We have to fight the good fight. We have to win over procrastination, distraction, self-conscious insecurity about the work. We have to struggle with quitting as the result of a rejection letter. We have endless questioning. Can I really do this? Am I being faithful? Aren’t there already too many books? Is mine worth reading just because I’m moved by it? I hate the struggle but love writing.

 

I’m not a driven writer either. Some HAVE to write! I don’t have to write. I want to write. I love to write. It is work, hard work. But I love the result. I love to see someone, after I’ve read to them, have their light bulb turn on. I love to see that moment where they say, “I never thought of that. That’s important.”

 

Asher’s art and his selfishness in expressing it seemed to go too far. I could identify with his Rabbi and father and mother. They were not asking him to be untruthful, only more selective. I don’t believe that every whim, every flight of emotion needs to be expressed. Some things don’t need to be expressed at all. Some things are not worth expression–other than to make us feel relieved that we have shouted
the primal shout. But frankly . . . Who cares that someone indulges their carnal nature?

 

Asher’s was a search for beauty and truth. Truth in expression. And Potok has accomplished in writing what his protagonist did in painting. He has given us a novel of truth and beauty.

 

In that sense I am not alone. And if you strive to express beauty and truth, then you are not alone either.

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