Friday, 12 April 2013

Book Review: The Orpheus Descent by Tom Harper

The Orpheus Descent
By Tom Harper
Hodder & Stoughton
Literature & Fiction
Release Date: 23 May 2013
Review copy from Amazon Vine
5 Stars


I have never written down the answers to the deepest mysteries, nor will I ever...

The philosopher Plato wrote these words more than two thousand years ago, following a perilous voyage to Italy -- an experience about which he never spoke again, but from which he emerged the greatest thinker in all of human history.

Today, twelve golden tablets sit in museums around the world, each created by unknown hands and buried in ancient times, and each providing the dead with the route to the afterlife. Archaeologist Lily Barnes, working on a dig in southern Italy, has just found another. But this tablet names the location to the mouth of hell itself.

And then Lily vanishes. Has she walked out on her job, her marriage, and her life -- or has something more sinister happened? Her husband, Jonah, is desperate to find her. But no one can help him: not the police and not the secretive foundation that sponsored her dig. All Jonah has is belief, and a determination to do whatever it takes to get Lily back.

But like Plato before him, Jonah will discover the journey ahead is mysterious and dark and fraught with danger. And not everyone who travels to the hidden place where Lily has gone can return.


Tom Harper has deftly blended fact, history, conjecture, maths, music, philosophy and modern day intrigue into a very cohesive whole. The narrative flits between Jonah's current search for his missing wife, Plato's historical search for his friend and an elusive book that allegedly shows the entrance to the underworld, and the days leading up to Jonah and Lily meeting and falling in love.

I wouldn't say the plot is as fast moving as something like the Da Vinci Code but it's as mysterious and intriguing. The Orpheus Descent is more a book to be experienced and savoured like a good gourmet meal rather than rushed through like fast food. Some of the discussions on philosophy went a bit over my head, I've never studied any philosophy, but the main gist of it seemed to come down to one main thing: would a good man do something bad to do good? Plato is searching for love, beauty and truth (very bohemian!) as much as Jonah is searching for Lily.

There are gods and goddesses, secret artefacts, people trying to prevent Jonah from finding both the artefacts and his wife, but Jonah is a man who never gives up. The author has taken Jonah's grief and shown it to us on the page, from every time he opens the door to his empty flat, wondering if this time he'll see her, or the way his heart jolts when the phone rings, hoping it is Lily.

It's a wonderful, engaging read and makes me want to learn a bit more about philosophy. I'd heard of Plato and Socrates, but that was about it. This book brings them and their philosophies vividly to life and it's a book you think about long after the last page is turned.

Reviewed by Annette Gisby

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