Book Reviews
The Chymical Wedding: Lindsay Clarke
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on The Chymical Wedding: Lindsay Clarke
The Chymical Wedding: Lindsay Clarke

A huge book in every sense, and deserving winner of the 1989 Whitbread Prize for Fiction, The Chymical Wedding is two stories, one that the reader joins in 1848, and one set round about the time the novel was written.

The poet, Alex Darken (fabulous name for a character!) has come to Norfolk to recover from the breakdown of his marriage. Affected by the contrast between London and the countryside around the Pightle, the thatched cottage lent by his publisher, he goes looking for the Green Man in the woods, and finds instead a naked grey-beard and a young woman making hilarious, if not passionate, love. Later, at a party at the stately residence of Ralph Agnew, the local baronet, he has a tarot reading by Edward Nesbit, the old but once-promising poet, now more or less forgotten, who’d inspired his own youthful ambition, and realizes that this is one of the woodland spirits he’d unintentionally spied on earlier. Attracted to Laura, Edward’s muse, Alex is drawn into their quest to discover the secret of alchemy, more complex by far than the search for a way to turn base metal into gold.

Back in 1848, Louisa Agnew, grandmother of Ralph, is acting as her father’s assistant in his great work of setting the vast store of classical Hermetic knowledge to verse. Both stories progress almost separately, until towards the final chapters of the book, when events from the first resound in the second and the two come together in a sort of alchemical fire that will change everyone concerned.

A dazzling, fascinating read this; the author has not only dug deeply into alchemical texts but researched related topics such as philosophy and psychology, not to mention the tarot. The novel is ambitious and intelligent, beautifully written, perfectly plotted from start to finish, and its characters dance and agonise their way through the pages as if they were truly human rather than figments of the author’s imagination. A thrilling achievement which truly deserves to become classic magickal fiction.

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