Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Publication date: January 13th 2014
The legend of King Arthur and the search for proof of his existence has occupied fiction and non-fiction authors for decades. Sean Pidgeon jumps into the fray with his debut novel Finding Camlann. Donald Gladstone is an archeologist preparing for the publication of his latest book on the true origins of the Arthurian legend. After meeting with his publisher and being given disappointing news about the manuscript he is further disheartened when a colleague announces the discovery of an ancient burial site containing bones and relics near Stonehenge. The chance meeting of a college friend, Julia, ignites feelings of ‘what-might-have-been’ and complicates Donald’s life further.
Pidgeon brings together a complex mix of characters and issues. He not only delves into the historical background of Arthur’s existence but, through the characters, gets into the social and political background between the Welsh and the English. In addition, he explores professional competition, Geoffrey of Monmouth, activism, obsession, and love. A vast amount of territory, literally and figuratively, is thoroughly and descriptively covered. There is much Celtic verse, poetry, and even a dream sequence from an obscure character interspersed throughout the plot. Finding Camlann suffers from the fictional problems of Gladstone’s manuscript—it covers the details but does not grip the reader. There are simply too many disparate elements and each moves at a varied pace making it difficult to dig into the story at any one point. It is not problematic enough to stop reading but there is no acceleration to the conclusion. Instead, the plot digresses and meanders. The characters seem infected with this ennui as well, remaining aloof, unresponsive and misunderstood. There are emotions but they are unspoken and in the case of Julia and her husband, Hugh, they remain amorphous and difficult to interpret. Are they still in love? Were they ever in love? Do they even like each other?
For all its promise Finding Camlann does not deliver. Pidgeon puts in the time and effort with sixteen years of research, which produces a number of interesting factoids about Welsh history and language, but does not infuse the novel with the action necessary for success. And while an ambiguous ending can be a necessary device, it is nothing short of infuriating when the main premise of the book is left unresolved. It also relies on the assumption that the reader will want a sequel and in this case Pidgeon would have been better served to deliver a bang-up ending. Bottom line? The legend of Arthur is fierce and red-blooded but this fictionalized look at discovering the truth behind the legend is anemic.