Barry Unsworth 1930–
(Full name Barry Forster Unsworth) English novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Unsworth's career through 1997. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Vol. 76.
Unsworth is widely respected for his historical novels that range in setting from medieval Yorkshire to early twentieth-century Turkey. Using the past as a springboard to explore larger universal themes of greed, betrayal, and the function and effect of art in human life, Unsworth concentrates on moral ambiguities and hidden complexities of seemingly minor decisions.
Unsworth was born in Durham, England, in 1930. He graduated with an English degree from the University of Manchester in 1951. In the 1960s he moved his family to Greece and Turkey, where he worked as an English lecturer for the British Council at the Universities of Athens and Istanbul. Unsworth moved back to England in 1970 to teach at the Lennox Cook School of English, a private school that provided English classes to non-English speakers. In the late 1970s Unsworth earned a creative writing fellowship from Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside. In 1982 he was appointed Northern Arts Literary Fellow at the Universities of Durham and Newcastle. From 1984 to 1985 Unsworth was writer in residence at Liverpool University. In the early 1980s Unsworth visited Venice, Italy, to do research for his novel, Stone Virgin (1985). Later in the decade he moved to Scandinavia, living first in Sweden and then Finland, where he finished his Booker Prize-winning novel, Sacred Hunger (1992). After Sacred Hunger was published, Unsworth moved to the Umbrian countryside in Italy, where he still lives.
Unsworth gained critical success with his novel Mooncranker's Gift (1973), winning the Heinemann Fiction Award. Told mostly in flashback, Mooncranker's Gift is the story of James Farnaby, who, in the midst of an adolescent religious obsession, is given the gift of a crucifix made of sausages by his middle-aged neighbor, Mooncranker. After masturbating in the garden one day, Farnaby sees the crucifix, rotting and infested with worms. His horror at the sight haunts him for years, until he encounters Mooncranker ten years later in Istanbul. Unsworth continued his critical success in 1980 with Pascali's Island, his first effort in the historical novel genre. Set on an island in the Aegean at the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1908, Pascali's Island is told as a monthly report from Basil Pascali, an agent working undercover for the last Ottoman sultan. As he writes his report, he embellishes certain aspects of his efforts and confesses various professional trangressions, eventually realizing that the work he has devoted eighteen years to is futile. In Rage of the Vulture (1982) Unsworth again explored events at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but from the perspectives of the sultan and the British Captain Robert Markham and his young son, Henry. Unsworth's next novel, Stone Virgin (1985) explores the impact of a Venetian statue of the Virgin Mary on three men who encounter her between 1432 and 1972. Again using various points of view, Unsworth examined the relationship between art and life. Sugar and Rum (1988) is a quasi-historical work about an author suffering from writer's block while working on a novel about the slave trade. In 1992 Unsworth published his most successful and critically acclaimed novel, Sacred Hunger, which is about a slave ship in the eighteenth century that his fictional protagonist in Sugar and Rum was researching. Morality Play (1995) also was highly successful and nominated for the Booker Prize. Set in medieval Yorkshire, Morality Play is a murder mystery and complex discussion about art's place in life. Principle characters in the novel produce a play acting out the murder to solve the mystery. In After Hannibal (1996) Unsworth left the historical genre behind to examine backbiting and treachery among a group of expatriate neighbors fighting for property in Italy's Umbrian countryside.
Response to Unsworth's work has varied, ranging from the relative indifferent reception that greeted Sugar and Rum after its publication to the nearly unanimous praise earned by Sacred Hunger, which shared the prestigious Booker Prize for literature. Morality Play was also nominated for the Booker, and Pascali's Island was widely admired for its take on the theme of creating a personal utopia. Unsworth's work has experienced a resurgence of interest during recent years with several new paperback editions of his novels.
The Partnership (novel) 1966
The Greeks Have a Word for It (novel) 1967
The Hide (novel) 1970; reprinted 1996
Mooncranker's Gift (novel) 1973
The Big Day (novel) 1976
Pascali's Island (novel) 1980; published in America as The Idol Hunter, 1980
The Rage of the Vulture (novel) 1982
Stone Virgin (novel) 1985
Sugar and Rum (novel) 1988
Sacred Hunger (novel) 1992
Morality Play (novel) 1995
After Hannibal (novel) 1996; also published as Umbrian Mosaic, 1997
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SOURCE: "Painted into Opposite Corners," in New York Times Book Review, Vol. LXXXII, No. 41, October 9, 1977, p. 14.
[In the following review, Broyard compares Unsworth's The Big Day to MacDonald Harris' Yukiko. Though his critical evaluation focuses more on Yukiko, Broyard uses it to illustrate why he finds The Big Day a disappointing follow-up to Mooncranker's Gift.]
Yukiko and The Big Day illustrate, all too neatly in my opinion, two contrasting attitudes toward the novel, two unrewarding corners into which quite a few authors have painted themselves. MacDonald Harris writes a dogged, log-ahead prose under the assumption that his story is irresistible enough to grip and hold the reader. Barry Unsworth offers impressive style and technique that overwhelm the thin and rather stale idea behind his novel. Mr. Harris's style, his novelist's equipment, seem to be virtually forgotten in his preoccupation with his subject. His diction is deadpan, and there is hardly a memorable sentence in the book. His tone seems solemnified by the grandeur of what he is attempting. He has no time for frivolity, for bandying words or digressing into the psychological complexities of his characters. He is a bringer of a message, a purveyor of profundity.
Compared to him, Mr. Unsworth strikes me as a literary playboy. He enjoys the run and rhythm of a sentence, the...
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SOURCE: "Other Times and Places," in New York Times Book Review, January 1, 1981, p. 10.
[In the following review, Malone provides an appreciative assessment of Unsworth's main character in The Idol Hunter.]
In 1908 on an irrelevant Greek island of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, the Levantine spy Basil Pascali writes his 216th irrelevant report to Constantinople, this time to the Sultan himself. Monthly, for 20 changeless years, the fat shabby informer has received for his services the same sum but never the slightest response to these millions of words poured into an Imperial void. In the silence he has written his life away and in so doing has fashioned it into the marvelous lapidary creation that constitutes British novelist Barry Unsworth's The Idol Hunter. Esthetic, solipsistic, constrained to see himself from the viewpoint of others as an obsequious, cowardly buffoon wretchedly cavorting for cadged meals, Our Man in Asia Minor is a spy Graham Greene could appreciate. George Smiley would employ and Peter Ustinov should play. He is a wifeless, homeless, drugged Ulysses abandoned to live by trickery on a foreign island.
By 1908 Turkish dominions have contracted to a moribund core of corruption and clogged bureaucracy, which exists only by the inertia that pays Pascali's salary and that keeps immobile the old emigres who sit hearing Offenbach and reading frayed Figaros in the...
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SOURCE: "Books of the Times," in New York Times Book Review, February 7, 1983, p. 15.
[In the following review, Lehmann-Haupt offers praise for Unsworth's evocation of the Middle East in the early twentieth century in The Rage of the Vulture.]
In Barry Unsworth's latest novel, The Rage of the Vulture, Capt. Robert Markham—a British infantry officer posted to Constantinople during the final years of the Ottoman Empire—is a complicated and not very sympathetic protagonist. He regards his 10-year-old son, Henry, mainly as a rival for his wife's affection.
He resents his wife for her failure to understand a secret thing about him, which secret, paradoxically enough, he refuses to reveal to her just because of that resentment. Convinced that Henry's governess can understand him, he all but rapes her and then rejects her for understanding him too easily.
He has a facility for surpassing in unpleasantness even the worst of the novel's other characters. In one of Mr. Unsworth's more bitter scenes, an English visitor named Miss Munro, who finds Constantinople "romantic," asks Markham to accompany her on an interview she has arranged with one of the Sultan's eunuchs. She has had great success with a series for an English magazine on Turkey during the 1908 revolution and wants to see "what the experience has meant to people. The guardsman, the concubine, the pageboy."...
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SOURCE: "Atonement in Turkey," in New York Times Book Review, March 13, 1983, p. 7.
[In the following review, Edwards finds The Rage of the Vulture an admirable attempt to reveal personal conflict amid catastrophic world events.]
The recent conquest of America's television screens by The Winds of War is the latest evidence of our desire to know the origins of the cataclysms the 20th century has made so commonplace. Or since such entertainments conceal as much as they reveal, maybe it is our desire not to know these origins too accurately, on the not unreasonable assumption that the whole truth might be more than we could handle.
The Rage of the Vulture, the sixth novel by the British writer Barry Unsworth, could also be made into a pretty good television spectacle but only by excising most of what makes it impressive as a novel; it comes not to conceal but, like any serious work of imagination, to tell us more than we are morally prepared to know. Mr. Unsworth's story is set in Turkey in 1908, when "the sick man of Europe" at last lay dying while its racially and religiously fragmented populace was in turmoil and the European powers sought to extend their spheres of influence. These struggles would become more public in August 1914.
As the novel begins, the aged Sultan Abdul Hamid II, rightly fearful that his cruel reign has brought retribution...
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SOURCE: "Death in Venice," in New Statesman, Vol. 110, No. 2839, August 16, 1985, p. 28.
[In the following review, Clute finds the meaning of Stone Virgin somewhat confusing but appreciates Unsworth's depiction of Venice.]
Bulging like a teardrop into its poisonous lagoon, Venice boasts a geography so graspable for purposes of art that it comes as a surprise not that so many stories are set there, but so few. In its fatal intercourse with the sea, the city models an inherent tendency of the Western mind to see the world as a series of dire consequences: the old familiar marriages of love and death, art and decay, power and corruption, sex and drowning.
Stone Virgin, a tale of love and death, art and decay, power and corruption and sex and drowning, has been set by Barry Unsworth, who is a deft and canny teller of tales, in the best place possible to add depth and a sense of the sorrows of time to a story that might otherwise seem marginally overblown. Conservation expert Simon Raikes has been called to Venice to restore a 15th-century Madonna, almost instantly to be haunted by the intricate circumambient city whose every vista seems to embody and to intensify his veil-rending obsessions. For he is an epileptic and, succumbing to seizures in the Virgin's presence, catches glimpses of an epiphanic Venetian past: bodies in clean rapture; hints of events that must have...
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SOURCE: "A Sexual Rectangle," in New York Times Book Review, April 6, 1986, p. 27.
[In the following review, Pollitt considers Unsworth's figure of the Madonna in Stone Virgin more interesting than his depiction of his human characters.]
Just when I thought I couldn't stand to read another semiautobiographical novel about a failing marriage, a blocked writer or a young man on drugs and the make, along comes the British novelist Barry Unsworth (Mooncranker's Gift) with a book that makes me think of that old Monty Python line "And now for something completely different." Stone Virgin is certainly that. Set in Venice in three different centuries, it's the only novel I can think of besides The Picture of Dorian Gray whose central figure and most interesting character is a work of art—a late Gothic statue of the Virgin of the Annunciation that seems to glow, may have supernatural powers and is definitely associated with murder, treachery, vengeance and high erotic doings down through the ages. There are problems with having a statue upstage the human characters, and I'll get to them in a bit, but give Mr. Unsworth credit: one couldn't be farther from the Upper West Side.
The main line of the story, set in 1972, gives us the British art restorer Simon Raikes, who has come to Venice to clean a sadly corroded Madonna as part of an international effort to...
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SOURCE: "Standing outside England and Looking In," in London Observer, No. 10,488, October 18, 1992, p. 59.
[In the following interview, Unsworth reflects on his childhood and literary influences as well as on winning the prestigious Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger.]
On balance, Barry Unsworth is in favour of literary prizes, even if he has to share one.
'I'm glad enough to have trousered the money,' he says, smiling diffidently—as much at his turn of phrase as at the sudden novelty of being £10,000 better off. 'And if the judges were genuinely at loggerheads between myself and Ondaatje, it was better to divide the prize than settling on a third who might not have been the first choice of anyone.'
In a posh suite on the tenth floor of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, Unsworth pours a second cup of morning coffee after the night's celebrations. Cheerful and attentive, he's too polite to burden strangers with details of his hangover, though he is noticeably wary of the Danish pastries.
The prize will come in handy. After several years' residence in Finland—where people go to bed early—he and his second wife are currently converting the pigsty of a 100-year-old Umbrian farmhouse into a habitation fit for a newly prominent novelist. 'It costs money,' he explains. But if previous Booker form is anything to go by, worldwide earnings for Sacred...
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SOURCE: "Books of the Times: Trading in Misery on a Doomed Slave Ship," in New York Times Book Review, December 23, 1992.
[In the following review, Mitgang calls Sacred Hunger "a remarkable novel in every way."]
Reading Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth's long and beautifully written novel, you know you are in the hands of a master craftsman when you find yourself slowing down on page after page to savor his thoughts and words.
A hypocritical shipowner engaged in the slave trade: "Wealth had not dimmed his need to be liked, his desire to appear knowledgeable."
The shipowner's self-praise for including a doctor on his slaver's roster: "God balanced the ledgers. Nothing went unrecognized. A good deed was an entry on the credit side, a bill drawn on destiny which could not fail to be met one day."
The slave ship's cruel captain: "He felt the beginnings of rage, always his willing confederate."
Before setting sail to Africa from Liverpool, the captain and the doctor, his nephew, "touched glasses and drank, but it was the spirit of enmity they imbibed that afternoon, and both of them knew it."
He writes of a half-blind former slave in New Orleans, "He was small-boned and delicately made and he had a way of tilting his head up when he spoke, as if seeking to admit more light to the curdled crystals of his...
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SOURCE: Review of Morality Play, in Publisher's Weekly, August 21, 1995, p. 43-44.
[In the following review, Steinberg praises Morality Play as a "gripping" examination of the tension between appearances and reality.]
A portentous opening sentence—"It was a death that began it all and another death that led us on"—sets the tone for Booker Prize winner Unsworth's (Sacred Hunger) gripping story [Morality Play]. Indeed, a larger spectre than those two deaths hangs over this tale set in 14th-century England. The Black Plague is abroad in the land, and here it also symbolizes the corruption of the Church and of the nobility. One bleak December day, young Nicholas Barber, a fugitive priest who has impulsively decamped from Lincoln Cathedral, comes upon a small band of traveling players who are burying one of their crew. He pleads to join them, despite the fact that playing on a public stage is expressly forbidden to clergy. His guilt and brooding fear of retribution pervade this taut, poetic narrative. Footsore, hungry, cold and destitute, the members of the troupe are vividly delineated: each has strengths and weaknesses that determine his behavior when their leader, Martin, suggests a daring plan. In the next town they reach, a young woman has been convicted of murdering a 12-year-old boy, on evidence supplied by a Benedictine monk. Desperate to assemble an audience, Martin...
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SOURCE: "The Great Pretenders," in New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1995, pp. 11+.
[In the following review, Burroway cites minor flaws in Morality Play, but otherwise praises the novel's deft universality of theme.]
In a bitter winter in 14th-century England, a young scholar-priest comes upon a troupe of traveling players. These are violent times, when victims of the plague are heaped in common pits and "the spirit of murder is never far." Nicholas Barber is in several sorts of flight: from the verbosity of the Latin manuscripts he has been set to copy, from the wrath of the bishop whose kindness he has betrayed and from the husband of the (most recent) woman he has toppled. Characteristically, the engaging hero of Barry Unsworth's new novel, Morality Play, is walking not on the road but in the shadows. From his hiding place, he witnesses the actors in a real-world death scene, gathered around one of their number. We know at once that Nicholas will join the troupe, taking the dead man's place.
One of the things that distinguish Mr. Unsworth's fiction is a sense of community that is warm without being sentimental. In Sacred Hunger, which won the Booker Prize in 1992, Mr. Unsworth created a leaderless band of former slaves and sailors in a credible utopia. In Morality Play, he offers a rich mix of squabbling, prideful players: the leader. Martin Bell;...
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SOURCE: "All the Stage Is a World," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 12, 1995, pp. 2, 7.
[In the following review, Nicholl presents an appreciative assessment of Morality Play, maintaining that the novel is a worthy successor to Unsworth's prior works.]
It is three years since Barry Unsworth's last novel, Sacred Hunger, won plaudits and prizes (including the United Kingdom's prestigious Booker Prize) for its rich, harrowing portrayal of lives aboard an 18th-Century English slaving-ship.
The setting of his new book is very different, and the tone of it even more so. Morality Play tells the story of a troupe of players on the road in late 14th-Century England. The action unfolds over a few days and features a tight ensemble of characters. Most of it takes place in a small, unnamed Yorkshire town where the actors arrive, in the deep midwinter, and set up their stage in the inn yard. After the epic sweep of Sacred Hunger, this is a spare and sharply focused piece. It has the deceptive conciseness of a parable, or indeed a medieval morality play, in which the complexity lies not in the telling of the story but in the meanings and resonance that echo in the mind after it is told.
If this makes it sound rather austere, I should add straight-away that it is also an intriguing murder mystery, which keeps you guessing until almost the last...
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SOURCE: "Barry Unsworth Rescues 'All the World's a Stage' from Cliche," in Chicago Tribune Books, December 24, 1995, pp. 3, 6.
[In the following review, Begley praises Unsworth's deft handling of the historical novel genre and his thought-provoking themes in Morality Play.]
Morality Play, a fine new novel by Barry Unsworth, who won the 1992 Booker Prize for his Sacred Hunger, works brilliantly on three levels. It's an accurate, carefully imagined historical novel, set in 14th Century England; a dark and suspenseful murder mystery; and a provocative meditation on the birth of a new art form. Each layer adds a different flavor and texture. Binding the whole is Unsworth's understated, unerringly precise prose, and his narrator, a priest on the lam, very young and very poor, named Nicholas Barber.
We meet Nicholas as he's running out of a house without his cloak, running from the rage of a jealous husband. A priest caught in the act of adultery? Nicholas is wayward and weak-willed, but engagingly honest in his confessions: "[I]t was not lust but hunger drove me, a lesser sin, I was hoping she would give me to eat, but she was too hasty and hot. Then by ill luck the husband returned before expected and I had to escape through the cowshed and left my good cloak behind in that bitter December weather."
Nicholas runs straight into a band of traveling players,...
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SOURCE: "When Someone Zigs Instead of Zags," in New York Times Book Review, January 17, 1996, p. C16.
[In the following review, Bernstein praises Unsworth's "tightly constructed murder mystery" and the evocative details with which he builds his story in Morality Play.]
The first few sentences of this cunning, suspenseful medieval murder mystery by Barry Unsworth [Morality Play] are a model of literary compression and an illustration of the artfulness that adorns the novel's every page. With quick strokes of the pen, Mr. Unsworth introduces his narrator, Nicholas Barber, as a priest who in the recent past was searching for a meal but ended up in an act of adultery from which he had to make a quick escape. This, in turn, put him in the woods, rather than on the open road, and it was in the woods that he ran into a troupe of itinerant players standing mournfully over the corpse of a recently deceased fellow. And this warrants the first half of Mr. Unsworth's opening line: "It was a death that began it all and another death that led us on."
At the heart of Morality Play is the fascinating logic obeyed by the chain of circumstance, whereby tiny, ordinary events lead to unforeseen large and life-changing ones. There is a theological statement here someplace about the role of free will and accident in human affairs, about the things that are predetermined and the things that are...
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SOURCE: "Creepy Crawling, Heavy Breathing," in New York Times Book Review, August 4, 1996, p. 12.
[In the following review, Quinn offers praise for the reprint edition of The Hide.]
Better known for his potent fictional reconstructions of time past—most memorably the slave trade epic Sacred Hunger, which shared the Booker Prize in 1992—Barry Unsworth reveals in this early novel, first published in Britain in 1970, an equally assured grasp of the modern world. Bristling with menace, The Hide is a superbly modulated study of the blighting of an innocent. While the canvas is somewhat narrower than one might expect from Mr. Unsworth, the texture of the prose is easily recognizable. And it is as dense and dark as the overgrown estate that furnishes the novel's setting.
The Hide is laid out as a dual narrative. Simon, who speaks to us in half the chapters, is a creature of the underground, obsessively patrolling the wild acreage of his sister's estate while he digs an elaborate system of hidden trenches, a "hide" from which he can watch "girls cycling past at weekends, careless of their skirts on the empty road." With his heavy binoculars and his heavy breathing, Simon likes nothing better than to spy on the woman in the bungalow across the way, priding himself on the discipline and stealth required for this perverted surveillance. He feels his secret domain coming...
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SOURCE: "The Weight of History," in Los Angeles Time Book Review, March 9, 1997, p. 2.
[In the following review, Eder considers After Hannibal a "dazzling" exploration of history, greed, and betrayal.]
"Do you know the land where the lemontrees flower?" Goethe wrote in a poem that helped shift the elevation angle at which the Romantics regarded earthly salvation. Instead of going upward to heaven, you went sideways to Italy.
Since then, untold hundreds of thousands have traveled from Northern Europe, the United States and elsewhere, not so much for the sun as to follow a grand line of beauty and aesthetic order that shifted from Greece to Rome, sheltered in the medieval abbeys and burst forth in the Renaissance. Above all, it went beyond works of art to show itself at the turn of a street, to blossom almond-white in a restaurant's courtyard and to stretch over patterned hills, olive groves and terra cotta roofs, as if that same art had formed them all.
Increasingly, when the grand hotel gave way to the pensione and then to the dream of the perfect villa or a month's apartment rental, the sense grew that you could do more than follow the line. You could join it; you could become part of the beauty. You could change your life, have breakfast in the painting, wash dishes in the three stanzas retained from college Dante. Literary adjectives would climb off...
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SOURCE: "Etrurian Shades," in New York Times Book Review, March 9, 1997, p. 30.
[In the following review, Mantel finds After Hannibal uneven in structure and character and overly formal in language.]
Barry Unsworth's latest novel [After Hannibal] is a sad comedy of cheats and fools, a story of unbounded beauty and blighted hopes, of multiple and layered betrayals, "a regression of falsehoods and deceptions going back through all the generations to the original agreement, God's pact with Adam." Its setting is the Umbrian countryside, "the hills that Perugino and Piero della Francesca looked at," and the little hill towns with their art treasures and their frequently bloody history. What lies beneath the promise of the spring landscape, the poplars gently unfurling, the peach trees in bud? The answer is there in the place names: "Sepoltaglia, burial ground, Sanguineto, where the blood ran, Ossaia, place of bones."
Mr. Unsworth's characters are linked by the road that runs past their houses. "They are called strade vicinali, neighborhood roads…. Dusty in summer, muddy in winter, there are thousands of miles of them wandering over the face of rural Italy. When such a road has reached your door it has no necessary further existence." These roads are marked on maps, but the maps make no distinction between broad highways and rutted tracks, between roads that are useful and...
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SOURCE: "Meet the Neighbors," in Chicago Tribune Books, March 9, 1997, p. 4.
[In the following review, Schwartz finds the characterizations in After Hannibal particularly intriguing and rewarding to the reader.]
After Hannibal, the latest novel from Booker Prize-winner Barry Unsworth (Morality Play, Sacred Hunger), is a deliciously keen observation of strangers in a strange land, deliciously keen observation of strangers in a strange land. Unsworth reminds the reader of Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym; he shares their understated wit and their talent for clean and stylish description. This contemporary novel even owes debt to E. M. Forster in its portrayal of foreigners at sea in Italy. While Forster may go deeper into the minds of his creations, Unsworth seems to have more fun gleefully setting his characters loose on one another and recounting the ensuing havoc: marriages broken, alliances formed, houses destroyed, secrets unburied.
Unsworth's people live near Perugia's Lake Trasimeno, on a small neighborhood road about which he writes, "the important thing, really, about roads like this, is not where they end but the lives they touch on the way." The inhabitants along this road include a comically mismatched British couple, two gay Italians, a slightly naive American couple and an Italian medievalist whose wife has just left him.
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SOURCE: "It's Hip! It's Contemporary! It's Literature!," in School Library Journal, Vol. 43, No. 9, September 1997, pp. 128-29.
[In the following review, Lothrop-Green provides a brief overview of the plot of Morality Play and praises the novel's exploration of the role of art in revealing universal truths.]
Barry Unsworth's Morality Play (Norton, 1995) was praised by novelist Hilary Mantel (in the New York Times Book Review) as "a near-perfect novel, with a diamond's glitter and a diamond's hardness: a profound meditation on the nature of justice and the transforming power of art." It is also a gripping mystery, a coming-of-age story, and a fascinating road trip through 14th-century England. Nicholas is a young cleric on the run from his boring desk job (copying Latin manuscripts). He sees a troupe of traveling players grouped around a death bed; characteristically, Nicholas fails to do his duty and absolve the dying man. The troupe could disguise his fugitive status, however, so he persuades the players to let him wear the dead man's clothes—both literally and figuratively. As he (and readers) learn about the life of the group and the nature of the morality play, issues bridging that time and ours are raised: the role of women, social roles generally, prejudice and fear, the arrogance of privilege and the cynicism of power, and the piety or nostalgia that conceal corruption....
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Altinel, Savkar. "Trinitarian Tanglings." Times Literary Supplement (30 August 1985): 946.
Altinel finds Stone Virgin disappointing as the final volume in Unsworth's literary triptych.
Bernard O'Donoghue, Bernard. "Medieval Mysteries." Times Literary Supplement (8 September 1995): 7.
O'Donoghue maintains that Morality Play is Unsworth's best book to date.
Colegate, Isabel. "Dreams of Umbria." in Times Literary Supplement (30 August 1996): 24.
Colegate finds After Hannibal "a skillfully composed and beautifully written novel" about the after effects of treachery and betrayal.
Fitton, Toby. "A Slave to Symbols." Times Literary Supplement (16-22 September 1988): 1014.
Fitton praises the originality of Sugar and Rum de spite what he considers some stereotypical episodes.
Godwin, Gail. "Three Troubled Lives." New York Times Book Review (7 April 1974): 31.
Godwin praises Unsworth's dexterity with presenting moral ambiguities in Mooncranker's Gift.
Goldsmith, Francesca. A review of After...
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