Wonders Will Never Cease

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Wonders Will Never Cease: A Novel by Robert Irwin.

Robert Irwin’s most recent novel Wonders Will Never Cease is in many ways a return to the form of his first The Arabian Nightmare. The setting is different: this one takes place in fifteenth-century England, and all of the principal characters are drawn from the history of the period. The elaborate narrative structure supports further stories within it, including Arthurian romance, Celtic myth, the Niebelung saga, prophecies, propaganda, dreams, and visions. As in The Arabian Nightmare, the boundaries between the imaginary and the “real” become very porous, and the reader is ultimately left with no defense against the fact that the contents of the book are all a story, but such a manifold and self-devouring story as to make one question the “reality” of the reader as well.

The narrative follows the adventures of Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales, who is slain in a battle at the beginning of the novel, but returned to life in a manner never fully explained. A nearly comparable amount of attention is devoted to the adventures of Woodville’s fictional alter-egos, in the rumors about him manufactured by George Ripley (alchemist and spymaster to Edward IV), and in the legends and fairy-tales told by his mother, who is evidently no mean sorceress. Anthony himself learns a bit of magic from the scholar John Tiptoft. But this book is very far from the sort of modern fantasy re-visioning of the War of the Roses found in G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books.

The idea of decapitation looms large in this book, although it has faded somewhat in public discourse over the last decade or so. I certainly took note early on when Irwin explained that it was customary for a medieval executioner to present the severed head first toward its former body, so that any trace awareness in the head could register its doom. As a reader of this intensely metafictional book, already-dead with Anthony Woodville, I felt more like a body regarding in fascination and horror the workings of my isolated head. [via]