Labyrinth – Kate Mosse – pub. Orion Books
L’histoire est un romain qui a été, le romain est une histoire qui autait pu être.
History is a novel that has been lived, a novel is history that could have been.
(E & J de Goncourt)
Just before the start of this book there are three quotes, of which this is one. Labyrinth is a novel where the past and the present are woven together and this link is cleverly dealt with as one character in particular, Alice, discovers a link with her counterpart, Alaïs, who lived centuries before. I had been dubious about some of the publicity for Labyrinth, promoting it as another ‘Holy Grail’ saga following so closely on the heels of the success of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. However Labyrinth also promised more: a mystery tale, partly in a historical context, set in parts of France I had visited, both recently and in the past. I took it on holiday to the Languedoc this Summer, although it was mostly set further west than we travelled. I was not disappointed.
Helping as a volunteer at an archaeological dig in the Sabarthès mountains in remote part of the Pyrenees, Alice Tanner uncovers something which sets in motion a disturbing chain of events. Unaware of the import of her discovery she becomes the target of enquiries from various characters who seek information to satisfy their own, sometimes dubious, motives. Running alongside this Alice cannot get out of her head a disturbing dream which she has had for many years which seems increasingly to have some connection with her current predicament. There is also a parallel story, that of Alaïs Pelletier, daughter of Bertrand the Intendant, or steward, to Viscount Trencavel who ruled the thirteenth century city of Carcassonne in South West France. She has a happy settled life, is widely loved, newly married to a knight, Guilhelm de Mas and of privileged position. However, one day Alaïs, like Alice centuries later, also makes a discovery which similarly changes her life for ever.
As the story unfolds the stories of the women become increasing entwined. We learn about two fictional sects, one which has its roots in Ancient Egypt and the second, the French Noublesso Veritable, which seeks to uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith and sees the ancient sect as a threat. We also learn about the Cathars, a thirteenth century Christian sect, about which there is much historical information. The terrible fate of the town of Beziers in the Languedoc whose citizens suffered at the hands of the Inquisition is well recorded and this information is included as part of the storyline of this book. Throughout the tale run words and phrases in the medieval Occitan Language, ‘Langue d’ Oc’, once used in the south of France, giving its name to the region. At one point a character uses the following words, including some in the old language and I add its translation found elsewhere in the book.
What we leave behind in this life is the memory of who we were and what we did. An imprint, no more. I have learned much. I have become wise. But have I made a difference? I cannot tell. Pas a pas, se va luènh.
Step by step we make our way. Step by step.
Labyrinth is a beautifully written tale weaving together history, mystery, deceit, intrigue, loyalty and romance whilst exploring the idea of links between history and memory and its contribution to posterity.
There is a website written by the author, partly in diary form, giving details about the research and writing of Labyrinth its characters and locations.