Conversations and The Lyre of Orpheus

The book club I belong to, the Burrahobbits, met last week to discuss The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies, a book I’d been suggesting for quite a while. I was nervous.

Davies was one of my favorite writers in graduate school, but I hadn’t read his work for about ten years, and when I picked The Lyre up again I was dismayed.  ‘All these people do is talk!’ I thought. All sorts of dramatic things happen in the course of the book – adultery, drunken auto accidents — but we don’t see them. We just get to listen in on the characters’ ten-page discussions of them. In both the writers’ groups I belong to, a chapter like that gets me severe critiques, so I’ve developed red flags that go up when there is Too Damn Much Talking.  All of them went up as I read through page after page of conversation, and I anticipated having to spend much of the evening grovelling in apology.

Yet as it happened, everybody liked The Lyre of Orpheus. Some members had even read the entire Cornish Trilogy, and summarized the other books in it with enthusiasm. Everybody had a character or an incident they had particularly enjoyed, and everybody had something they could relate to. It was the most unanimously positive discussion we’d had since The Wind in the Willows, and far livelier.

What about those pages and pages of conversation, I asked. Oh, but lots happens in the book! everybody said, and the voices of the characters are so distinct, and Darcourt’s inner transformation is so engrossing, and Dr. Dahl-Soot is so interesting … it was official by the end of the evening that Davies could do no wrong.

But now what am I to make of all the critiques I’ve received over the years, and my internalized alarm at putting in too much conversation?  Perhaps this is one of those cases where you must learn to follow the rules before you can break them.

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