Written by the author of Hawksmoor, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction, and Chatterton, this is a pastoral novel of the late 20th century in which the author meditates on the nature of history, the problem of time and the true qualities of the English landscape.
At the beginning of this story, a forest fire has revealed a ring of stones along Stonehenge lines and what is possibly a burial mound tumulus in the countryside in England. An archaeological dig is being readied to find out what is inside the mound. The people involved with the dig are really strange as are the people who live in the nearby village. As the archaeologists begin excavating, strange things start to happen. For example, the astronomer, Damian Fall, starts to hear things and flips out, and is literally waiting for the sky to come crashing down on him. The villagers have a strange meeting where they discuss what to do with "it." The archaeologists start hearing and feeling things as they continue to advance into the tumulus. Where it goes from there I won't say.
Overall, my personal feeling is that this could have been much better. I love the idea of (and believe in) all things in the cosmos being related and forging bonds between present, past and future and between earth and the rest of the universe. Also, I think that what the author was trying to get to was how science begins with mythology, and ultimately rises out of mythology ... and uses the burial mound to explore this idea as well as our connection to the universe & the passage of time. But I couldn't help it...in this book, the characters just sort of take over and are so strange and bizarre that they override whatever it was Ackroyd was trying to do. If they weren't so ridiculous, I might have enjoyed this one more.
The people in it were perverse, sad and pointless overall. I mean take the Mints. For time out of mind they've been protecting the secret of the turmulus and their dead could-be-ancestor within. Why? Even they don't know. No adequate explanation is given. Fertility rights? Ancestor worship? A perverse need to be underground? The need we all seem to have to keep secrets and be part of some mysterious society. Who knows?
The women, on the whole I found believable. Martha was a "wicked evil-minded bitch" to quote PD James. Always putting her best face forward wile telling people to fuck off in her thoughts. Evangeline - what a fruitcake! She was sharper than she let on, but not as sharp as she would like people to believe. Her personality varied from one person to another just enough to let you know that it was completely contrived. Her willful blindness to her "Baby Doll's" real personality was laughable, and in the end Hermione let her know it. Tying her up and gagging her, no wonder Evangeline thought it was a joke.
The Clares were the weirdest of all. I didn't see Katharine's suicide coming. I thought she might have been the one at the site causing all the trouble. I saw it as a possible effort to get Mark back home with her. The jealousy of the cripple. "There is always someone left behind on the shore" after all. She seemed so wrapped up in him for her identity, that in retrospect, it really wasn't surprising that she flung herself off Swithin's Column.
Mark seemed to have his heads in the clouds too much to be a professional. He seemed to have no gravity at all toward his work. It was all a game of hide and seek to him. He had to be the one to discover everything. Not just discover it, but almost to become it. Feel it. Experience it. He had to put his hands in the dirt, the walls, the floor, the coffin - everywhere. And then his almost non-reaction to his wife's death. He expected to find her again after he lost her. Well that part lost me. You're dead and that's it. I don't feel as though anyone sees anyone else after all of the lights go out.
The two astronomers were only marginally interesting. Damien was going through the old man blues. "What have I done with my life? Nothing. What did I want to do? Everything. SOS. I think 90% of males in this society have a similar panic attack late in life. This guy though, he just took it to extreme. Very maudlin of it all. Alexander wasn't much help to him either - except to remind him of what he once was; a blind young man knowing he could change the world if he could only see the stars. In the end he became more like his treasure star than he realized until the end. Alderbaran. The old barren one. Bloody typical.
Archaeologists have discovered a tumulus, hidden away in a remote forest that has since burned down, and they *need* to know what's inside. Why do they need to know? Why do any of us feel a draw to history, to our ancestry and what may have constituted the 'beginning'? Death is this looming, unknowable infinity, that nobody can understand but nobody can escape. And yet humankind has this curious draw toward it, in ways which define and illuminate our present. The tumulus is not the 'plot' of First Light, but the catalyst in which all of the characters surrounding it contemplate mortality and history