Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Cambridge List by Rober Clear: Review by Anachronist

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.

Final verdict:

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.


  1. Great honest review! Two dimensional characters drive me crazy so I don't think this is for me.

  2. Hear, hear Nic. Swearing and murder is really not enough for a good novel!

  3. Shame as I like mythology stories as well. :(

  4. I attempted to read this book and had to put it down. There was a certain scene in the bakery that completely grossed me out and I decided to call it a DNF. And I like thrillers.

  5. Characters are always my favorite part of any story, so if they don't leap of the page and grab me, I usually have trouble. Add in what sounds like some gag-inducing humor and I think maybe this one isn't for me even though I love Greek mythology:) Thanks for such a thorough review!

  6. At first I was thinking that this might be one of those unreliable narrator type books where the dude is actually crazy since he's hearing voices in his head.

    Why would the Greek gods want to kill classics professors? Aren't they the only ones who care about them? I guess I have to read the book to find out...but then again judging by your review I probably shouldn't.

  7. oh this just sounds terrible...gagging while I read is not something I want to do. I think I will skip this one. Great review :)

  8. @ Amanda - that particular scene really put me off as well but I am a compulsive reader, sad but true. One day I must learn how to put down a bad book.

    @ Jenny - you are welcome. I had to mention that type of humour because it is really something some people cannot tollerate.

    @ StephanieD - well, you have been warned, it's up to you to decide.

    @ Grace - thank you!

  9. I'm not sure about this at all... and I'm not loving the cover!

  10. Eh, I am just gonna f*ing miss it. Lol, sorry but I just had too ;)
    But yes too much swearing annoys me

  11. The cover is bland, I agree, dear Bookish B. It was the least important flaw though.

    Blodueudd too much swearing annoys me as well!

  12. Hmmm, interesting. But I don't think it's one for me. The synopsis sounds interesting, but not one I usually pick up. Thanks for the wonderful review.

  13. Sounds like a good book! I love Greek gods and stuff. But I don't like the fact that the character doesn't grow much. Still, I would want to read this.

  14. So don't love characters that don't "pop"----:(

    It sounds like it had a great concept just not the right follow through.

  15. @Melissa - you are welcome!

    @Savannah - it's always best to read a book for yourself if you think you might enjoy it after all - do, try it!

    @Felicia - my thoughts exactly!


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