Big dig

By CLEA SIMON  |  January 6, 2009

Not so with Land of Marvels. Despite the ingenious plotting, Unsworth gives his characters less leeway than usual. Somerville is a lost soul from the start, clinging to a fading dream; his fate is inevitable. So, too, is Elliott's rise: he's man of the future, and his faith never wavers. Only Somerville's wife, Edith, comes to some sense of enlightenment over the course of her own sordid adventures, and even those insights fade as her life settles back into normality. Perhaps the approaching war has frozen these characters. Perhaps the domino-like structure of the plot left little room for them to play other than their assigned roles. Or perhaps, most likely, the present for once weighed too heavily on the author. The result is enjoyable, but in the sense of a smart puzzle. Caught too much in these times, Land of Marvels falls short of timelessness.

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