A Book, Read – #11/2016 – Eliot, T. S. – Murder in the Cathedral


There was a brief time in my life where I thought I wanted to be a playwright.  I was reading Stoppard and Pinter heavily, and I thought they were showing me a way that I hadn’t ever considered and which seemed, back then in 2009, to resonate strongly within me.

Since then, I’ve read a variety of playwrights and plays, and while my desire to write plays has softened, my appreciation and respect for this facet of literature remains intense.  I consider plays a pure, distilled, positively constrained part of literature, and I hope to expand my awareness of the art form.  I remain woefully ignorant of foreign-language playwrights, and English-language plays, too.

Now, Eliot I like.  I have read quite a number of his poems.  I am honestly not a poetry man, but I like his work.

But what I do not like is historical fiction.

Why?  I don’t know.  I’ve thought about it, and I don’t know.  If a book was written in 1650 and is set in ‘the present day’ of 1650, then I am happy.  But a book written 200 years later that is set then?  For some reason I can’t stomach it.  I really don’t understand it.  Perhaps because I find it an excuse to use an historical time as a metaphor instead of some aspect of the writing itself?

But then I like Gravity’s Rainbow, which is set during World War II and was written in the 1970s.  I like War and Peace, which was written seventy years after Napoleon’s intrusion into Russia.  So I am a liar.  But perhaps it is the distance?  I struggled with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.  And I struggled with Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

It’s set in the twelfth century.  I understand, of course, that the heart of a human doesn’t really change, just the external trappings, but for the reasons listed above I couldn’t really enjoy it.  I couldn’t bring myself to engage with the struggle of Thomas Becket.  I’m also not religious, but that shouldn’t matter too strongly.

And so I don’t have much to say about this.  I powered through it, because it was short, and because I like Eliot.  I admit that I did not give it the attention it deserved, and should perhaps have avoided it altogether, in appreciation of my own limitations.  But I did not.

The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.


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