Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane


This novel reminded me of an epic fantasy insofar as it is fascinated with large-scale historical change, the political consequences of religion, the fragmentation of social life and magic. (In this novel, “magic” is a mathematics that no one understands that a prophet figure has used to predict the future.)

Three aspects of its point of view set it apart from epic fantasy:

1 The narrative tracks the sweep of history across several epochs rather than detailing efforts to cope with a single transition from one epoch to the other.
2 The characters are upper-middle-class politicians and merchants rather than lower class artisans, labourers, or orphans.
3 The story turns around the decisive actions of the “Great Men” of history rather than on the appearance and transfiguration of a messiah.

Set alongside the celebration of nuclear power and the ubiquitous use of cigarettes as a sign of sophistication and competence, number three gives the novel a decidedly old-fashioned feel.

Posted September 17, 2014