Monday, 6 April 2015

"Citadel", Kate Mosse

Some books require the right time and place to be read. Having wholly enjoyed the first two of Kate Mosse's Cathar trilogy there was a lot of enthusiasm when "Citadel" came out in the run up to Christmas 2012; I honestly believed it would be a book that occupied hours through the Christmas break when respite from the barrage of family that the season invariably involves was needed.

This didn't happen.

Instead "Citadel" has been sitting in a magazine box beside an armchair in the sitting room pretty much since then. A couple of abortive attempts to start it went nowhere, and when heading off on travels eastwards last week, picking up "Citadel" was accompanied by a tacit bargain that if it returned from Georgia unread then it would go to a new home and I'd file a level of wonder at why it had failed to grasp me in the way the previous novels had.

Maybe it's because I've been thinking about the Languedoc recently, idly thinking about Cathar castles (and yes, I know, most of these post-date the Cathar period) and pondering whether an Albigensian crusade of my own was a feasible road trip, but this time "Citadel" gripped. I tried to think at what point I bulldozed my way through whatever the previous sticking point in the novel had been, but to be honest I was considerably past it by the time it became a serious consideration, and by that time I had identified sufficiently with the characters and been engaged by the plot to not really worry about why previously the book hadn't worked.

Taking a similar twin narrative approach to the previous two volumes, the focus of the book is Carcassonne and the Languedoc between 1942 and 1944, covering the period of German occupation and French collaboration and resistance. It's not a particularly pretty piece of history, and Mosse doesn't shy away from making clear the level of atrocity perpetrated and the way in which communities tore themselves apart. While there are still the notes of magic realism that ran through "Labyrinth" and "Seplulchre", this time it feels somehow darker. Here the good guys don't always win, and in sending this message it makes "Citadel" a useful text when thinking about post-1940 France.

It's probably reliant on you being in the right frame of mind, and wanting to put yourself in the Languedoc in a dark time more readily recognisable than that of the early 13th century, but "Citadel" does reward and serves to make you think in a way that marks it out as rewarding literature.

Maybe I will find some time to head to the deep south of France this year.

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