Land of Marvels: A Novel by Barry Unsworth (Nan A. Talese, a division of Doubleday, January 6, 2009), 304 pages
Set in 1914, Land of Marvels finds Somerville, a British archaeologist, in his third season on an as-yet supremely disappointing dig in Mesopotamia (aka Iraq), which is being increasingly threatened by the approaching German-built railroad. Plus, there’s the race to get as much done as possible before the impending outbreak of war — not to mention, at Somerville’s mound, the approaching end of the financial line.
The story has relational drama, oil intrigue, and a general pre-war tenseness.
Although the cover calls this a thriller and historical fiction, I’m hesitant to use that thriller label. I concur with the historical fiction tag. It does have some elements of suspense, but it’s too slow moving to be a thriller.
I loved the archaeological aspects of the story. Unsworth attempts to throw in some social commentary, but this seemed half-hearted — and certainly unsuccessful. Overall? This book was enh. Not outstanding, certainly.
Although this is Unsworth’s 15th novel, this was the first of his I’d read. He won a Booker Prize for his 1992 novel, Sacred Hunger.