Reviewed by Lorraine Dobbie
by John Macgregor
Paperback: 366 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1484186015, May 2013
Seventeen years before Dan Brown wrote “The da Vinci Code”, Australian author John Macgregor wrote and had published “Propinquity”. Republished this year, “Propinquity” still captures the attention of lovers of a fast-paced religious conspiracy novel. With an intriguing title “Propinquity” (an ancient term meaning warmness of place and spirit), plus a cover illustration by Maureen Pritchard, depicting a medieval saint-like woman beside Gothic architecture with a native Australian Major Mitchell Cockatoo upside-down in the background guarantees to engage the imagination of the would-be reader.
All of these symbols are woven together with what may seem like a preposterous plot revolving around a group of mid 1980s friends resurrecting the perfectly preserved body of Berengara of Navarre, the wife of Richard the Lionheart who was buried under the floor of Westminster Abbey in the 12th century. As she was the disciple of an Indian mystic, she offended both King John and the Christian Church of the day and was given a soporific and secretly buried.
All of these aspects are told through the eyes of Clive, the narrator. He displays exuberant, anarchist tendencies and his actions reflect total disrespect for the law. Firstly, he scoffs at the school rules at the exclusive Geelong Grammar School. He sells his inherited company to a tramp when it is near bankruptcy to dodge his Australian tax bill. At Oxford University, while studying Medicine, he experiments with designer drugs. After meeting Samantha Goode, (the Dean of Westminster’s daughter) and learning of the secret crypt where Berengaria has lain for nine hundred years he rallies his friends to contravene the Burial Act and steal the body with her gnosis texts. This attack on the crypt deep in the Abbey involves jamming its switchboard, creating criminal diversions and handcuffing a priest. Later he resists arrest and bribes a witness to not testify against him.
With Berengaria’s body safely hidden, the action gathers suspenseful pace as the friends locate, in Haiti, Mimosa occidentales, the antidote for the sorophic herb administered to Berengaria which had initially induced her into a comatose state. The quandary for the group of friends is if they do succeed in reviving Berengaria, do they really want to unleash on the world the secrets of gnosis. Would this revelation serve the cause of finding Truth for the contemporary world?
One of the many virtuous attributes of the novel, is the warm and tender friendship between the characters which remain intact even after they go their separate ways after school and university. Another, is the idea of the spiritual search each character is pursuing in order to discover their own personal, ultimate Truth. Macgregor has created a witty, intelligent read, well-suited to those who love an intricate, well-managed mystery.
About the reviewer: Lorraine Dobbie works as a teacher/librarian in the Independent Learning Centre of a leading private Girls High School in Sydney, Australia. In this role she teaches Research Skills and Literature appreciation. She has had a Literature unit of work published for teachers which used a novel study as a vehicle to teach Asian Studies in the English classroom. Her passion is to instil a love of reading to the students in her classes through the promotion of quality novels. She is a regular reviewer for Fiction Focus, an Australian magazine which is published by the Western Australia Dept. of Education. A recent book she reviewed, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James inspired her to create a book trailer about that novel as a tribute to the Brontes. http://www.syriejames.com/videos.php She aspires to be a professional book editor/reviewer/trailer creator.