The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett (thoughts)
My first read of 2013 turned out to be epic: Dorothy Dunnett’s The Disorderly Knights is not for the faint hearted. Shifting from Scotland to France to Malta to Libya and back to Scotland, with a plot whose subplots need a family tree, and enough characters to populate a small town, not to mention its six hundred page length, this is a brick of a novel. It’s also deliciously rewarding, and my favourite of the Lymond Chronicles so far. I was craving a smart, old-fashioned story that I could lose myself in, and Dunnett certainly delivered that. In fact, with a hundred pages to go, I found myself trying to convince my eyes to stay open longer because I was so desperate to discover the denouement (I lost that battle, which is probably good, since being half asleep doesn’t make Dunnett’s prose any easier to follow). It feels like all of the groundwork Dunnett laid in the first two novels is now paying off, so that the plot can come into its own instead of being overshadowed with all of the background information. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, although as always I wish she was a bit kinder to Lymond! It set a wonderful tone for this year’s reading.
Speaking of which, recently I’ve been reading a bit differently. Towards the tail end of 2012, I read the interesting How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. While it’s primarily concerned with nonfiction, in the chapter on fiction Adler highly recommended reading a novel in as few sittings as possible. The aim is to immerse yourself as much as possible in the author’s and characters’ world, so that you can get the full effect before making any judgements. Since I usually read books in a rotation, I decided to try out reading my fiction straight through. And to my delight, I’ve found it takes me back to my childhood reading style. I’m definitely more involved in the stories I’m reading, and for some reason I also find it easier to acknowledge when a novel isn’t for me and to set it down instead of dutifully pressing on. It’s been an interesting exercise, and one that’s injected new life into my reading.
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett: this should go without saying, but just in case, definitely read the two earlier Lymond books before starting Disorderly Knights! This is the first in the series.
- Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: if you end up craving more epic historical fiction, turn to this wonderful Ghosh novel. Similarities include a vast range of characters, an exhaustively researched historical context, enough subplots to keep you on your toes, and a richness that calls out for rereading.
- Queen of Scots by John Guy: this is an interesting, scholarly biography of Mary that obviously includes background on the times she lived in. I read it a few years ago, and what I remember of it has served me well since I began the Lymond Chronicles. The second in the series (Queen’s Play is more directly concerned with her court and intrigues, but she’s at least in the background of all of them.
- Possession by A.S. Byatt: I haven’t actually talked about Possession on my blog, despite my love for Byatt. But this is another historical novel that is frighteningly intelligent and completely immersed in its era. Unlike Dunnett or Ghosh, Byatt focuses on personal relationships and literature instead of politics and epic scenes. But she delivers a long novel that you’ll love getting lost in.