Omphalos is a beautiful book. Mark kindly provided me with a pre-publication proof copy which I eagerly devoured. I have enjoyed Mark’s writing since coming across Undreamed Shores a couple of years ago (reviewed on The Bookworm’s Fancy blog as well as Amazon and Goodreads). Omphalos is a more elaborately structured book, peeling layers of history back successively from the present day back to the time of Undreamed Shores, then returning layer by layer to the present day.
The closest analogy I have read is The Source, by James Michener, but Mark achieves here something which in my view is more memorable and more human.The Source tended, despite the author’s efforts, to lose the personal dimension against the grand sweeps and calamities of history. Also it progressed linearly forwards through history rather than giving the sense of diving deep, and then slowly surfacing again. Mark, while still setting his various characters in times of flux and crisis, never allows these settings to obscure personal dramas and interpersonal relationships. Sometimes the links between the layers are obvious; other times there are only little clues in the narrative to spark the connection.
Omphalos explores one of the great themes of human life – what is it that unites us with past generations, and what is it that divides us? The divisions in term of social customs and attitudes are certainly present, but common threads abound. As well as individual emotions and actions, the theme of unity is externalised into aspects of nature, and most obviously into the centrality of the ancient sacred site on Jersey around which these many worlds pivot.
An obvious consequence of the layered structure is that we spend less time with any one person and context. There is a slight frustration here: I wanted longer with each of them. But that sense of Time’s Winged Chariot hurrying near is also a theme of the book – as new generations are cut free at birth from the navel of the world, their time is all too short.
Omphalos goes on sale very soon from the time of writing: December 5th 2014, to be precise, and there is an online launch on that day. I can thoroughly recommend that you find out for yourself what this book is like. Five stars so far as I am concerned, without a doubt. Hopefully, like me, you will reach the end, lean back with a sigh, and think “ah, what a beautiful book this is.“