Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

land-of-marvelsLand 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.

Other reviews:
S. Krishna’s Books
Fashionista Piranha
Annis at Historical Novels
Chazz W


10 responses to “Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

  1. Our thoughts on this book were very similar – I loved the archaeology but didn’t like the social commentary!

  2. Mmmm…….. Sounds like this one won’t be moving up in my TBR pile

  3. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one more.

  4. I’ve run into a number of books lately that were labeled as thrillers in the promotional copy, but which I didn’t agree were thrillers. Actually, I prefer more thoughtful, character-driven novels to thrillers, and I think it’s unfortunate publishers feel they need to promote books like this as being something they’re not. “Annis,” one of my frequent guest reviewers at gave this novel a pretty good review – but she’s quite tolerant of books that move a bit slowly so long as they provide worthwhile food for thought.

  5. I gave up on this one today. I made it to page 90, but I was bored stiff. We’re on spring break from homeschooling, and I didn’t want to waste my spring break reading time on something that was boring me. 🙂

  6. I gave up on this book too around page 100. It was so slow moving and I just couldn’t get into it at all.

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