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Morality Plays (tpb) Paperback – Dec 5 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; Open market ed edition (Dec 5 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241136342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241136348
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 367 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,907,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 14th-century England, Unsworth's novel revolves around a theater troupe whose decision to enact a recent murder leads them to uncover a conspiracy.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

The author of the Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger (LJ 7/92) brings 14th-century England to life in this imaginative medieval mystery, which will inevitably invite comparisons with Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (LJ 4/1/83). Its narrator is Nicholas Barber, a young monk who has forsaken his calling and joined an itinerant troupe of players that gets caught up in the real-life drama of a small-town murder. The crime presents Barber and his fellows with an opportunity to attract a larger-than-usual audience, and they turn sleuths, weaving the bits of information yielded by their investigation into an improvised play that eventually reveals the surprising, sordid truth. Rich in historical detail, Unsworth's well-told tale explores some timeless moral dilemmas and reads like a modern page-turner. Recommended for fiction collections.
David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I picked up this book because I've always loved mysteries, this one promised to be a mystery and also qualify as decent lit., and because I loved the cover.
Unsworth is obviously a very talented writer, and the amount of research that must have gone into this novel in phenominal. Even more impressively, it doesn't feel like research when you read it. I learned all sorts of interesting details about Medieval life and culture in general and Medieval theatre in particular, and I got to learn all these things while being primarily engaged by a fascinating story, and a group of well-drawn characters. They were all good. Stephen, Tobias, Straw, Springer, our narrator, the marvelously real Nicholas, and particularly Martin, the leader of the Players, and Margaret, the marginalized member.
The mystery itself wasn't particularly difficult to discover; however, the tension of the book was steadily built, and the threat that the Players constantly felt seemed very real.
Unsworth also excels at description, and passages describing the bitter winter weather, and the arrival of the knight, are excellent.
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Format: Hardcover
The plotting and the characterizations in Morality Play are indeed wonderful, but as one reviewer noted, the ending is a bit of a let down. In the opening pages, the narrator tells you of the great horrors he has witnessed that are with him to this day, and as the story nears its conclusion one is prepared for some horrific tale- but the reader is instead left with a rather ordinary ending and one that wraps things up a bit too quickly and perhaps too simply. That's not to say it isn't a good or well done ending- only that the author seems to be setting the reader up for something quite different from what is finally presented. In that context, the ending seems weak. Reading, I often found myself comparing Unsworth's middle ages with those of Umberto Eco's as portrayed in The Name of the Rose, and it seemed to me that Eco covered similar ground but in a much more vivid and involving (to the reader) manner. I still recommend the book highly; the comnparison to Eco is as much a compliment as a criticism
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Format: Paperback
A medieval thriller, about a murder. Oh Brother Cadfael. I wouldn't have read anything as shallow-sounding if it hadn't been recommended to me. But I was pleasantly astounded by the author's deftness of touch; the characters of the players are very sharply and plausibly drawn, the descriptions bring vivid images into the mind, and the story is skilfully paced. I also enjoyed the way that seemingly inconsequential scenes, such as the appearance of the red-canopied knight after the burial of Brendan, have their symbolic relevance revealed towards the end. Overall, Unsworth pulls off a stunning trick: while continually reminding you of the dichotomy of truth and artifice, he cajoles you into believing his own fiction. I am only slightly bothered by one loose thread: there are strong hints throughout the novel, particularly in later chapters, that the chief player, Martin, has met a sticky end by the time of Nicholas's telling of the story. At the end, however, it seems Martin and his fellow players are about to be rescued from the castle. Does he live or does he die? Or is it the author's intention that we make up our own minds? Perhaps this is a job for Brother Cadfael, after all.
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Format: Paperback
Barry Unsworth's book borders on brilliance. Unlike some period pieces purportedly focusing on medieval times and life, the timelessness of this tale draws us in and challenges us, like a play. As we all know, life is art, and art is life. Unsworth takes us to the next step as he illuminates a world, perhaps ultimately not that different from ours, that does not welcome light thrown onto its preferred mode of darkness.
On one level, "Morality Play" is a simple tale of traveling players during the calamitous fourteenth century, a time when all bad aspects of life were perhaps at their ascendancy. The author spares us neither the plague nor the corruption of the church and the nobility. There is more than enough avarice and cruelty in this short volume to make the reader grateful that our days are so much better.
As one expects in a narrative of the Middle Ages, Fortune drives men to their destiny, in spite of any thoughts, wishes, or desires recalcitrant or reasoning minds may offer in opposition. It is Fortune that drives Nicholas Barber, our erstwhile narrator, to join a troupe of itinerant players. It is Fortune that drives the players to a town that recently had lost a child through foul murder. It is also Fortune that drives the players to create a new art form, plays based on life though still rooted in types. The end has more than a hint of deus ex machina, making the point that the timeless is so for a reason, perhaps the most valid reason of all.
Although the players are types on stage, the change is obvious as each shifts to a position where it is not clear whether the person or the role is more in control. These players are radical beyond what a casual reader might suspect.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed Morality Play, Barry Unsworth's mystery set in 14th Century England. I especially liked the players, and the narrator's struggle to learn to fit in as one of them. Unsworth unravels the book's mystery slowly as he introduces the characters and accurately depicts the tribulations of the time period. The mystery itself continually changes as the players try to reenact the crime scene in front of an affected audience. The ending is surprising and neatly fits together the many links of the mystery. What I found disappointing about the story was the lack of promised suspense. The novel takes a while to build momentum (it took half the book to cover what was on the back cover of the novel). Also, many times the narrator foreshadows terrible events to come to himself and his new friends, yet what Unsworth promises never quite unfolds. Not that I was looking for lots of bloodshed, but I was looking for a more suspenseful ending than just the unraveling of the mystery. Also, I greatly enjoyed the narrator's fellow players and was disappointed that they disappeared before the ending of the story, their own roles left unfinished after so much promise. Overall, I enjoyed Morality Play. The characters and rendering of the time period were great, but I would have liked a little more suspense.
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