Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Maitland and The Company of Liars: A novel of the plague

I had just finished The Swallows of Kabul and still had a long flight to go. Fortunately, I was in the Johannisburg airport, with it’s truly wonderful bookstore, and came across The Company of Liars: a novel of the plague. Well, it isn’t exactly a novel of the plague. The story opens in 1348, a year in which le morte bleu hit the British Isles, only later to be called the plague. The author captures the times, the filth, the lack of bathing, the superstitions, the ways of life.

The plot centers around a group who wanders through the island, just trying to stay alive. The spreading plague impacts on their wandering, but to call this a novel of the plague is just not accurate. The plague is the reason for the journey, but the journey is the center of the novel, not the plague.

Before I started reading the book, I read the Historical Notes in the back, and that is where I came across the most interesting information in the entire book:

The 1348 plague was only the latest in a series of disasters to hit Britain. The period between 1290 and 1348 had seen a rapid and drastic climate change which was so noticeable that the Pope ordered special prayers to be said daily in every church. Eyewitness accounts claimed that 1348 was a particularly bad year, for it rained every day from Midsummer’s Day to Christmas Day. Climate change brought about crop failure, liver fluke in sheep and murrain in cattle, as well as causing widespread flooding which virtually wiped out the salt industry on the east coast. This, combined with a population explosion, meant that as many people died from starvation as from the plague itself.

Interestingly, the book will not be released in the US until September 2008. The cover shown is nothing like the cover of the book I bought.

American issue cover:

Cover on book bought in Johannisburg:


I like the cover of mine better.

Some reviewers call this book “enthralling” or “gripping.” I wans’t all that enthralled or gripped, but it did make good airplane reading. I learned a lot about the grim brutality of life in 1348, but as I told AdventureMan, this is more a book about a slice of time than a book with a great plot. The plot isn’t that great, it is the historical detail that is interesting, and fiction just makes it more easily absorbed. (my opinion)

July 4, 2008 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Cultural, Family Issues, Fiction, Food, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Relationships, Social Issues | ,


  1. Just dropped in to wish you a Happy 4th of July intlxptr 😀

    Thanks for the review, a historical novel is my fav way to read about history 🙂

    Comment by Darya | July 4, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thank you, Darya! I was just thinking about you, wondering how you are doing! You know, I think I might have reviewed this book more positively had I not just finished Swallows of Kabul, which is so gripping.

    BTW, I can’t find your blog!

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 5, 2008 | Reply

  3. I’ve added Swallows of Kabul to the list of books to read. For some reason, recently i have taken a keen interest in Afghanistan…dunno why…maybe coz even though it’s a neighboring country i don’t know much about it 😦

    *drops head in shame*

    opps,rieanne said the same thing, hehehe…see i change blogs so often that even I can’t get the url right 😀 :D…it’s: (i always 4get the ‘my’ at the beginning 🙂

    *makes an appointment to get her head examined*

    Comment by Darya | July 5, 2008 | Reply

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