THE SCHOLAR’S TALE is a recording of the exploits of a brilliant man as he satisfies his intellectual curiosities, along with his sexual desires.
This novel follows Roy Musgrave, intellectual and scoundrel – “a scholar who aspired to unscholarly behavior,” as he researches background information for a novel, while also toying with the emotions and bodies of various women.
THE SCHOLAR’S TALE is composed of excerpts from writings in his notebook diaries, or Jottas, as they’re referred to in the novel. Musgrave, a man of intellectual pursuits, as well as those of the earthly pleasures, is at times a difficult man to like. One can admire his lust for language and English literature and history, yet his lust for women, and his treatment of them, does make him a tad more unapproachable. However, it’s this very unflinching lust for life that seems to balance him out; his effortless ability to describe his life experiences in such a vivid way that one feels they are in an alien landscape and are being led through it by an expert tour guide, as he does in describing Morocco, “Morocco returns to me through the limbless and eyeless ones, torsos on skates, bags drooping from the stooped shoulders of old crones, gleaming brasses in the medina hanging from hooks, the wood and plastic gewgaws, the old men seated in the dust muttering Koranic verses, the shouting, the trumpets and the smells.” It is Musgrave’s vivid use of language, along with his uncanny ability to constantly land on his feet that intrigues the reader.
Musgrave moves through women as easily as he moves from one locale, and/or job, to another. Having been first with one wife, then a mistress, then another wife, then a mistress, and finally another wife, and this one the last, who also just happens to be the sister of his second ex-wife. Along with that, he’s also had an intense sexual or as he would put it, love infatuation, with his now fourteen year old step-daughter. Yes, Musgrave is in love with being in love, and it is this behavior that often puts him in jeopardy, including ending up in jail, due possibly to one of his amours illegal doings.
The novel tends to remind one of the Rabbit novels by John Updike in that the main character, though full of flaws, is still quite engaging, and believe it or not, likable. THE SCHOLAR’S TALE is the tale of a man who tries to live life his way, even though doing so may mean hurting others. As he states himself when it comes to the subject of marriage, “…in marriage there’s always a tension, no matter how covert, between duty to one’s spouse and duty to oneself.” It is this dichotomy of service to oneself versus service to others that makes Musgrave such an interesting man. For what man or woman doesn’t long to have their cake and eat it too. Musgrave seems to have spent his life attempting to do that very thing.
THE SCHOLAR’S TALE is an honest novel and excellent albeit at times difficult read, depicting a brilliant writer and individual, who at times was his own worst enemy.