Wow—a bold experiment! Krehbiel stakes his whole work—ostensibly another story about Merlin, King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and all the rest—really about the relations between men and women—on just that.
The relations between the characters in this story, the most gripping page-turner by him so far in my opinion (but that might just be because I love reading about both academia and Rome), constantly and unapologetically demand the reader’s attention. They rarely needed to apologize.
On the negative side, I will merely observe, without spoiling essential plot points, that sometimes—and once for sure—I thought the narration went further than the demands of authentic art. I thought that the worst acts of passion should be adumbrated obscene—from offstage.
This is in my opinion what makes For Whom the Bell Tolls great literature where it could have been a trashy airport novel, and what to this day gives place to some of the great debates about the greatest stories—the relationship between Sebastian and Charles in Brideshead Revisited, for example, or the tragic end of Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. These could and would today have been weak sidelights that add little more than the low humor of a Will Farrell movie or the cheap thrill of a Dan Brown novel.
Krehbiel has a fine artist’s sense of the limits of the stage and of the sensibilities and abilities of his audience. He challenges his reader’s imagination and rewards us for paying attention. I thought the climax of Merlin’s Last Days was a minor misstep in a fun story that I couldn’t put down once I had started it. He could have written it twice as long, with more character development and more context for the big picture, and I would have been happy with that.
Now what? Read Patriarchy? If you haven’t read Eggs are Expensive, Sperm is Cheap, you’ll find it sheds light on Merlin, and vice versa. As always, art beats argument, and Merlin alone contains a sometimes beautiful reflection of the realities of the relations of men and women.
Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.