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Barry Unsworth, author of the Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger, turns to 14th-century England with a novel of foul doings in the time of The Name of the Rose.
In Morality Play, Unsworth, indisputably the finest writer of literate historical fiction alive today, brings 14th-century England to vibrant life, transporting us back to this "distant mirror" to show us a world that, beneath its medieval trappings, is full of the same corruption and moral dilemmas that we face today.
Nicholas Barber is a 23-year-old monk who, fearing the wrath of his bishop for breaking his vows of chastity, takes up with a troupe of traveling players. Coming to a small town in the middle of winter, the troupe puts on its usual morality play, only to get caught up in a drama of a different kind. A murder has taken place and a girl stands condemned, awaiting execution. Seeing an opportunity to attract a large audience, the players go through the town collecting information, which they weave into their second performance. As they perform, though, the story grows, as does the audience. Soon they learn that what makes for good drama is far closer to the dangerous truth than they originally imagined.
Morality Play is a brilliant novel that holds us in its powerful grip as it deftly portrays how art can, quite literally, reveal truth....