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Illuminations: a novel
Meet Rose, an Australian history professor. She's in France to research her paper on the Gospel of Nicodemus. She's low on funds; her boyfriend is missing; and she's more interested in translating an obscure Arthurian manuscript she chanced upon, than finishing her paper or finding her boyfriend.
"The guy at Chantilly was particularly gorgeous. He was fascinated by my magnifying glass (your old geological one). He waited on me hand and foot till I took the hint and let him have a squizz. This is one of the reasons, I think, that I copied that whole text out. It meant he left me alone after a while!"
Rose is drawn into the world of the women of the manuscript: Ailinn and Guenloie.
"Ailinn at first sight did not look like the stuff of which heroes are made. For one thing, she was neither six foot six with bulging muscles, nor male. She never girded her loins. Swords were anathema to her. So were adventures."
"Guenloie had ridden a horse before, that much was obvious, for her attention was taken up entirely with the unfolding of the town. It appeared she had not dreamed that so many streets could exist as clustered in its vicinity. Guenloie was enjoying herself, open-eyed. She had sung of towns, and learned of towns. The reality, she discovered was a little like the tales, only it lived and breathed. It would not do to live so close to other families, but it was good to visit and to discover. She stored every sight, every smell, in her memory. Not even a rat, crawling in the shadows of a house-eaves, could escape her gaze."
They become her solace when her boyfriend suddenly disappears.
"Things started changing about a week after I arrived in Britain -- the tone of his letters started being aggrieved and aggressive. I didn't know whether to be angry because he was upset that I was doing all the things we had agreed, or hopeless because obviously I was failing him somehow.
Not was failing, am failing. Whatever I was doing wrong, I am obviously still doing it. Otherwise he would not have disappeared."
Ailinn and Guenloie's quest to help King Arthur save their world from the forces of darkness converge dramatically with Rose's quest to save herself from a life of quiet despair.
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