The Diviner’s Tale, by Bradford Morrow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan. 2011. 978-0547382630. $26.00. 324pp.
It is a challenge to convey what a skillfully-wrought, intricately woven novel is Bradford Morrow’s The Diviner’s Tale, and how beautifully-written it is. Even the most casual reading leaves one breathless at the depths plumbed by the author, and the threads of symbolism and mythology worked subtly and seamlessly throughout.
Cassandra Brooks is the first female of her line to have the gift of Divining—Water Witching, my father would have called it (for he was one), but as with so many spiritual gifts, Divining cannot be confined to just the safe box of dowsing. When just a young child, Cassandra ‘foreview’ her brother Christopher’s death in a car accident, and similar messages from the etheric realms have come to her throughout her life. The “viewing” which begins the novel’s present-day action comes to Cass as she dowses a large tract of land for a lake site, and finds instead a hanged girl. Or does she? Cass calls her best friend Niles Huber, who is also Chief of Police of Corinth County, upstate New York, who arrives with his officers, but he finds only tenuous verification of the vision.
The interplay between “real” and “Real” is one of the overarching themes of the book, as one might expect when the narrator’s father is named Gabriel Neptune Brooks. As an astrologer, as well as a mythology junkie, I love the levels on which this novel works! Cassandra is, of course, named for the Trojan seer blessed/cursed by Apollo with the True Sight who is never to be believed; Neptune, to astrologers, is the planetary energy expressing the dissolution of the personal ego—this can be through mysticism, or it can be through drugs, but wherever Neptune appears, the ego will be dissolved, and the gifts of Neptune include prophecy, clairvoyance, divining, and the like. Nep himself is a Diviner, and early in the book we learn that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s—a disease as certain to dissolve the personal ego as imaginable. While these powerful themes interplay throughout the book, there are many other mythological signposts mapping the reader’s way through this richly symbolic landscape. Many of these are subtle and require some digging: Corinth itself, the location of the novel, was in ancient times the site of a power struggle between Poseidon (i.e., Neptune) and Helios (the Sun)—or, in astrological terms, the subtle realm of spirit at odds with the world sunlight, of consensual reality; Mendes Road, where Cass and her twins live—could that be a reference to Baphomet, the Goat of Mendes, the goat-headed Gnostic deity confused with the Christian Devil? The Magenta Campion flower appears in the book—Silene dioica, for Silenus, drunken god of the woodlands, dioica, meaning “two houses” which has a botanical meaning but in this densely mythological world could it refer to the “houses” of Neptune and the Sun? I may have to venture into lit-crittery and write a book simply to explore these questions for my own edification!
This is a beautiful book, lyrical and evocative. It is also a mystery of relentlessly-escalating, page-turning suspense, thanks to the tensions between the two realities so effortlessly presented by the author. I confess that was hesitant about starting this novel; in occult-based fiction, I find that often the research is disappointingly shallow, with an execution to match. This book, however, I would recommend unhesitatingly to my friends and anyone deeply knowledgeable in this area, as well as to any reader relishing a well-told tale.