Short Take: John the Pupil – David Flusfeder

This Medieval pilgrimage novel is for fans of Barry Unsworth and Umberto Eco. Like those authors, it offers detailed historical fiction, adventure, suspense, comedy and violence. While there’s a curiously 21st century feel to the story, the structure of the plot and the use of a language is a tip of the hat to a long literary tradition that goes back to Chaucer. Someone in-house said it reads like “a medieval road movie – Umberto Eco seen through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino.”

“In this multilayered, intellectually challenging historical novel, Flusfeder considers medieval science, religion, and education through a young scholar’s journey from Oxford, England, to Viterbo, Italy. In 1267, real-life freethinker Roger Bacon sends off John, his fictional favorite pupil, accompanied by strong, silent Brother Bernard and sweet-tempered Brother Andrew, on the pretense of a pilgrimage, to deliver a copy of Bacon’s Opus Majus and samples of his inventions to the Pope….By the time John reaches the Pope, he has experienced friendship and conflict, witnessed sin and martyrdom, suffered loss and doubt. The core of the novel is John’s first-person chronicle of the adventures, interspersed with fables and legends of saints, capturing the violence, superstition, and spirituality characteristic of the Middle Ages.”
—  Publishers Weekly

John’s both limited and brilliant point of view is astonishing, especially when he describes the intricacies of an illuminated manuscript with entirely fresh eyes. The reader will move from amazement at how dark the Dark Ages were to recognizing the darkness and the hope in our own time.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Flusfeder frames his novel as John’s contemporary journal, one discovered, neglected, rediscovered. The journal’s marked by saint’s days, each chapterlike segment highlighted by short biographies of saints known and obscure. The characters John meets are metaphorical….Each tempts John, especially after he learns Bacon hasn’t trusted him completely. John’s meeting with Pope Clement offers a poignant denouement, especially Flusfeder’s sketch of the aged and weary pontiff.”
Kirkus Reviews

“There is never a dull moment on this trip…The vicissitudes of John’s journey are a delight to follow…The result is a vividly atmospheric sense of period and, in the character of John, a richly comical and engaging hero…Learned, funny and strikingly original, this is a hugely enjoyable read.”
The Times (London)

John the Pupil (9780062339188) by David Flusfeder. $24.99 hardcover. 3/3/15 on sale.


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