The crowded, tortured canvasses of Hieronymous Bosch are perhaps the closest equivalents to this prize-winning 1988 Welsh novel: a pungent vision of medieval life in Europe and Great Britain during the 14th century, when the Black Plague threatened to literally destroy Western civilization. `Pestilence` tells two parallel stories, each haunted by the specter of approaching catastrophe: there's that of the Welsh township of Dolbenmaen, riddled with poverty, lust, and hysterical religiosity; and the contrasting tale of young Egyptian Salah Ibn al Khatib, who travels north by ship in a constantly frustrated quest to avenge a wrong committed against his family by the haughty King of France. Roberts's taut, often sickeningly violent narrative displays an imposing enormity of sedulously mastered information about late-medieval religion, medicine, law, and society, and his artfully shaped plot brings its separate stories together, with a savage thrust of irony, at the mockingly `hopeful` visionary conclusion. Unusually intelligent and memorable.
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