Red Fox Books ISBN 9780099438489
Cal has struggled to cope with his mother’s drinking and her psychotic episodes since he was six; cooped up in their dirty council flat he dreams of a new life. So when he leaves to live with his uncle Trevor in Chepstow he is ruthless about breaking with the past, despite his mother’s despair. But getting off the train at the wrong station he finds himself at the castle of the Fisher King, and from then on moves in a nightmare spiral of predetermined descent into a wasteland of desolation and adventure, always seeking the way back to the Grail he has betrayed. Catherine Fisher has created a gripping and highly moving novel that moves between myth and a contemporary journey of self-knowledge until one becomes indistinguishable from the other. Drawing in Arthurian themes, historical re-enactments and the Four Hallows, Cal’s quest for a return to peace of mind is an elaborate and ambitious Grail novel for our time.
Here’s a confession. Corbenic is perhaps my favourite book of those I’ve written. The reason is that I think the main character, Cal, is one of the realest people I’ve been able to imagine. He’s moody, selfish, riddled with guilt and maybe not that likeable, but he’s very real to me.
Corbenic is my Holy Grail story. It’s quite the tradition for a Welsh poet and writer to want to write a Grail romance, so I decided to take the oldest one I could find- written by Chretien de Troyes in 11 something and make it into a modern story.
Cal leaves his mother behind in Bangor and, even though he knows she has mental problems and really needs him, he sets off to live with his Uncle Trevor and have the nice, perfect life he’s always dreamed of. He falls asleep on the train and when he wakes up jumps out in panic to a lonely station in the middle of nowhere with the name CORBENIC. It’s dark, it’s raining, and he sets off to find a phone. Instead he finds the castle of the Grail King.
Anyone who knows about the Grail knows there are many versions of the story. I liked working out how to get to King Arthur, and Merlin, and all the warband, and the castles and jousting, into the twenty-first century. I also loved setting this book in places I know well- it moves from Chepstow to Caerleon, from Bath to Glastonbury. And if you ever take the train journey Cal took, you can try to work out where to get off and find the castle. Though, as Merlin says You must wish to. With all your heart. More than your life, you must wish to.