Grace: A Story, by Paul Davies (ECW, 80 pages, $11.95 paper) is an engaging, interesting, and implausible combination of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, with didactic elements from comparative mythology and elsewhere, and quotations from the lyrics of Meat Loaf. Though I find it hard to write about without making fun of it, a real and particular mind and talent are at work in this book.
A young woman called Grace, from Edmonton in the 1960s suddenly finds herself witnessing the great retreat of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, from what is now Iraq across the mountains to the Black Sea, in the fourth century before our era. On the one hand, this is historical fiction that has lost confidence in itself; Grace does not take part in the action she sees, and even the wise horse she becomes friends with steps into it only intermittently. Mostly, they converse. On the other hand, the book is ambitious in its metaphysics, which though sketchy is very present in the dialogue and indeed in the plot, turning as it does on a mixture of time travel and reincarnation. Some of the conundrums of time travel are old chestnuts, but good ones-here, Grace learns that she has been named after herself.
The dialogue is often stilted: "We misjudged the terrible danger and hardship that it entailed, however, including, as I mentioned, the death of our brother..Gerald had on his person a gift, given him by Job when we left."
Paul Davies has a good feeling for the incongruities of juxtaposing ancient and modern times; in this he reminds me of E. Nesbit, Charles Williams, and C. S. Lewis. It is odd for a book to join, as this does, such a good sense of humour and such sententiousness.
The horse (explicitly contrasted to Mr. Ed, late of TV) has met in his travels Jung, Orwell, and Wittgenstein. (He has adopted the adopted name of another acquaintance, the second premier of that distinct society British Columbia, Amor de Cosmos, né William Alexander Smith). And a pair of time travellers whom we meet have more or less overheard the conversation between Job and the Voice out of the Whirlwind. But Davies wisely (more wisely than Milton) keeps all eminences except Xenophon off stage. Under these circumstances at any rate, it is a relief not to be called upon to meet God.