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Walker Percy: Lancelot

Lance Lamar, like other Percy heroes, is disenchanted with the Sixties and disenchanted with his life. He is well off, a lawyer, and spends most of his time doing nothing much – reading detective novels, drinking and watching TV. Like other Percy heroes, he has his epiphany. In this case, he notices his daughter’s blood group on her camp application and realises that he cannot be her father. As Lancelot, he now sets out to be the opposite of the Arthurian hero, using evil to destroy this wanton age that he has come to detest. The novel is in the form of a confession to an old friend and priest, aptly named Percival, after he has committed the evil deed, which consists of blowing up the house with his wife and her friends in it (and getting injured himself).

The whole novel gives us a bleak picture of the modern age as we watch Lance slowly sink into total madness. He sees everything in black and white. A woman who has an affair is an unmitigated whore while his first wife, who did not, was a saint. There is nothing in between. His spying on his wife and ultimate murder of her and her lover are, in his eyes, clearly justified. Indeed, he tells Percival, women will be free to be ladies or whores. Percy’s vision is bleak and far less humorous than his earlier works. The allegory – Lancelot, Percival and the search for what Lancelot calls the Unholy Grail – doesn’t really work and the conclusion is even more ambiguous than in the earlier works. A good novel but not as good as his previous ones.

Publishing history

First published 1977 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux