St. Lazarus College is running short on money. A Best-Selling Author is invited by the Master to bolster the image and financial status of the university. However, the author has run out of ideas for books. How the author became so famous in the first place is quite a conundrum. The Master’s colleagues are in agreement that the author is a terrible writer. His plot may be interesting, and his story may be fast paced, but he is not very good at writing complex characters. But recently, The Chaplain found a manuscript that he believes predates Chrétien de Troye’s Perceval, the original Grail story. The scholars in the Senior Common Room decide that the Best-Selling Author should write a historical fiction novel based on this manuscript. The Professor of English chooses the name for the novel; “we must have a good literary title at least. What about The Waste Land?”
The Waste Land: An Entertainment is mostly a story about a monk named Hugh de Verdon who leaves the security of monastic life at Cluny to become a crusader during the First Crusade. Although his father and brothers were killed in war, Hugh has always dreamed of being a knight. At the Council of Clermont, Hugh hears Pope Urban II speak of the atrocities the Turks have committed in the Holy Land. In a moment’s decision, Hugh de Verdon leaves his abbot and joins the ranks of Godfrey of Bouillon. In search of fame and fortune, Hugh “takes up the cross” and follows Godfrey to the deepest recesses of hell. Because of his great swordsmanship, Hugh soon becomes Godfrey’s favorite knight and friend. But Hugh is in love, and he will do anything to get his Blanche back. His journey brings him face to face with violence, betrayal, and the truth about his religion.
The Best-Selling Author receives help from the scholars to write Hugh’s adventures, but not all is well with the professors. It seems as if there is an enemy in their midst. With this threat, how will the author finish his book about the adventures of Hugh de Verdon and the true origins of the Grail?
What did I think of it?
The Waste Land: An Entertainment (2010) is a recently-published book by Simon Acland. I don’t remember anymore how I came across this book, but but I remember that I decided to read it because I knew that the story took place during the First Crusade, and after reading Sacred Violence by Jill Claster, I really wanted to explore further the world of the 11th century. I was very impressed by Acland’s writing style. The story was well-written and fast paced. I also liked how the book did not take itself too seriously. The professors of St. Lazarus College attack and attempt to fix the Best-Selling Author’s book. Their feedback lightened an otherwise emotionally heavy read.
I must warn you that this book is not for the faint of heart. There are many scenes of incredible violence (torture, decapitation, etc). If you cannot stomach graphic violence, this book is not for you. Honestly, if it was not for the chapters about the Best-Selling Author and the professors at St. Lazarus College, I would not have enjoyed the book. There is no way I would ever be able to watch a film adaptation of this work. Still, I am glad that Acland did not sugar-coat the crusades.
I have never read Perceval by Chrétien de Troyes, but evidently, the author makes many references to the story. I may have enjoyed the Grail bits more if I had. For personal religious reasons, I didn’t really like the last quarter of the book. The Waste Land: An Entertainment, like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, explored the Grail legend. An apocryphal Gospel appeared in the story; at that point, I didn’t care much for the book. Because of this, I don’t think I will read the sequel.
But don’t let my personal views discourage you from reading this novel. I much preferred it to The Da Vinci Code; The Waste Land: An Entertainment was historically accurate, and the characters had great complexity. If you enjoy reading books about the Grail legend, Simon Acland’s book may be the one for you.
[Abbot Hugh to Pope Urban II]: “The sixth commandment is unequivocal – it says ‘thou shalt not kill’ – it does not say ‘thou shalt not kill save in a just cause’. With the greatest respect, I must question the righteousness of achieving even worthy goals in this world with promises of salvation in the next.”