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Interwoven lives    

25 November 2016

William Whyte reads a novel on fiction’s three perennial themes


Chains of Sand
Jemma Wayne
Legend Press £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9



THE Russian scholar Vladimir Propp once said that all the stories in the world could be broken down into 31 types. Christopher Booker, more recently, suggested that there were seven basic plots. In reality, this can be reduced to three. The first is romantic: boy meets girl. The second is about the search for home, for a return to the place you belong. The third is about escape, and the pos­sibil­ity of freedom offered by somewhere altogether different.

Chains of Sand is a complicated book with a complex message. It interweaves past and present, London and Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Gaza. It deals with important political issues such as the Pal­estinian Occupied Territories, and the conflict between religion and fem­inism. It is not afraid to tackle rape, violence, racism, and sex and rela­tion­ships across culture. This is, to say the least, a great deal to cover in 300 pages — a great deal for any book to bear.

And yet, at its heart, Chains of Sand is a story about love, home, and escape. It is about how all three run through the lives of people whether they live in England, Israel, or Palestine. There are several love stories here, all more or less doomed. All are seeking some sort of home or homeland; all are seek­ing some sort of escape. All are trapped or thwarted, imprisoned by who they are or where they live. Whether love is real, whether home can be found, whether freedom is possible — all these remain open questions to the end.

It is a beautifully observed, care­fully crafted, often touching, some­times shocking, and always com­pel­ling read. If the characters some­times say what they need to say rather than what you suspect real people might actually say, then this is a small price to pay for a sustained and humane meditation on funda­mental themes.


The Revd Dr William Whyte is Senior Dean, Fellow, and Tutor of St John’s College, Oxford, and Professor of Social and Architectural History in the University of Oxford.

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