Mini review: The Cambridge List by Robert Clear
James Connor, a young English teacher in one of many Cambridge language schools for foreigners, is being seriously depressed. Not only his job is tedious to the extreme and not exactly well-paid but he also can’t find anything better. He desperately wants a change. Flanoxiride, a new anti-depressant developed by one of his flatmates, a PhD biotech student, still not tested on humans due to lack of funds, seems to be his chance to turn over a new leaf. He has nothing to lose, doesn’t he?
Soon enough he is able to hear a beautiful tune in his head, sung by a woman. He knows that probably something is not entirely right with him but the tune is so enticing he doesn’t want to interfere – it’s better to hear that than his students’ poor English, right? The woman sang about existence itself – of stars and galaxies, atomic and subatomic life. Who wouldn’t want to listen to it? After a while James has a whole Greek pantheon in his head – Hera, Athena, the Muse (like in Homer’s Iliad), all of them. They have a plan concerning James – they want him to kill five people who defy Greek deities the most and whose names are on an appropriate list. James will be the human agent or “wessel” of Olympians’ wrath. Call it a promotion.
Very conveniently, the first victim, Harriet Mason, happens to be James’s previous academic mentor, a monstrously fat woman and a lecturer in Ancient Greek who hates men (or so people think). That way we find out more about James’s classic studies at Midsummer College and the hidden plot which prevented him from obtaining a hard-earned degree and starting a very promising scholar career at the Faculty. Small wonder gods themselves had to intervene. ;) As the story unravels it seems that the Cambridge University’s Classics Study Division hides more unpleasant secrets than any decent mafia…or Greek tragedies. Small wonder- after all, believe it or not, classics is the study of death and sex…
Will James carry out that grim task? Will a young reporter, Wendy, help him? Will gods be finally appeased?
What I liked:
The premise was perhaps not the most original one (Greek gods have been featuring a lot in different nowadays) but it certainly was presented in a refreshing way. Hera, Aphrodithe and the Muse (a.k.a Muesli, the teenage single mother of four) were fun to read and had a lot of character.
All other deities were presented in a very human manner – they quarrel and fight, they swear and plot, all in poor James’s brain. If you think it is a bit too homey you should read the Greek myths themselves in which gods were exactly like these presented here: true, they used another language but, by and large, they remained a mirror reflection of their worshippers, not above stealing, raping, murdering and killing, even women and children. It’s obvious Mr. Clear understands Greek mythology rather well.
What I didn’t like:
Two-dimensional characters. If James was supposed to grow up and shoulder any responsibility he didn’t let it be seen (sly dog).
Sometimes the sense of humour, which was supposed to be dark, became too close to those lavatory jokes, dealing with any secretions a human body can excrete. Not my kind of fun (but undoubtedly appealing to some dumb teenage boys), I prefer something a tad more intelligently dark. Giving you a hint I do not recommend eating anything, even the best dark Lindt chocolate with cherry filling and a dash of chili, while reading some parts of this book – your gag reflex might still surprise you rather nastily. When I come to think about it you might actually think twice before visiting the lovely and ancient town of Cambridge, England. I am not sure the reputation the author gave that place in his novel was fair but it was certainly horrible. And a bit funny too.
Finally there was a lot of swearing in this one. If it was supposed to make the atmosphere even more hilarious for me (imagine Hera saying to Dionysos something like: “I could f*****g well wring you clean”) it failed. It made the dialogues between gods merely ludicrous.
A book with some good scenes and ideas but also one that overall failed to impress me. Not my type of humour, not my kind of fun. Pity, because I do like mythological variations and thrillers.