A Fifth of November by Paul West

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Paul West's groundbreaking new novel illuminates the events surrounding Guy Fawkes and the English Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

In his nineteenth novel, A Fifth of November--perhaps his most accomplished work to date--Paul West describes the events surrounding the English Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Instigated by thirteen Catholic conspirators, most famously Guy Fawkes, the Plot was a failed attempt to blow up the English Parliament building and all within, including King James I. Catholics and priests were then ever more brutally persecuted throughout the country. At the heart of West's novel is the superior of the English Jesuits, Father Henry Garnet, hiding in tiny holes behind the walls of English mansions, left on his own, prompted by his sexual urgings, tormented by the smell of ham and eggs cooking, and debating in his mind God's ultimate righteousness. Shielding him from harm but also prolonging his discomfort is the eloquent and melancholy noblewoman, Anne Vaux. A Fifth of November follows Garnet, from when he first hears of the plot the conspirators have confessed their plan to him--what is his responsibility?--to his pilgrimage to Wales, his escape to Hindlip over the English plains, and ultimately his imprisonment in the Tower of London. All along, the figures who partake of this historical moment are brightly, often horrifically, drawn. West tackles through rhapsodic language, brilliant characterizations, and historical precision that most inevitable of topics: human evil.

About Paul West

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Paul West was born in 1930 in England, and educated at Oxford and Columbia Universities. Besides 18 novels he is also the author of ten works of non-fiction. He has taught at Brown, Cornell, and Arizona. His honors include a 1993 Lannan Prize for Fiction, an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1996 the French government made him a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. He moved to the US in 1957, and presently resides in Ithaca, New York.
Published May 17, 2001 by New Directions. 340 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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The story stalls for much of its first hundred pages, as West roves through the cloistered thought processes of: Father Garnet (also troubled by unwelcome sexual imaginings), Lady Vaux, and Owen—as well as composer William Byrd, an acquaintance of Father Garnet’s, whose music gains him entry to C...

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Publishers Weekly

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West's latest novel strips away the touristy quaintness surrounding the English customs of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) to reveal persecution, malice and a very modern paranoid style beneath the cause for the merriment.

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