May 31st, 2014

Review: People of the Great Journey by O. R. Melling

People of the Great Journey
by O. R. Melling

Olwen Mellory, a middle-aged author of fairy tales, receives a mysterious invitation to an inspirational workshop at Dunesfort House, a great manor located on a remote Scottish island. The retreat is like nothing Olwen has experienced before; each day, new mystical experiences and shamanistic rituals rip open old wounds from her unhappy past. But the constant references by other workshop attendees to “the Work” and the mysteries she cannot penetrate frighten Olwen and she doubts she can trust anyone. She is torn between leaving the retreat early or staying to continue the mystical group-quest with the others.

When I ordered this book from Amazon’s Vine Program, I didn’t realize this book was so heavily steeped in New Age rituals. I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known, but the description made it sound like some sort of creepy horror novel. Oops. I am trying to be fair to the book as it is written, but I am definitely not the target audience for it.

If I had read this book about fifteen years ago, I think I would have liked it a lot. I was very interested in psychic phenomena and practices like astral traveling, dreamwork and other elements of New Age mysticism. But I grew out of that stage, and at thirty I’m a cranky old lady who thinks little of this modern magical mysticism.

Sometimes, a book just doesn’t find you at the right time.

I’m also distracted by the fact that Olwen Mellory is clearly a fictionized version of the author, O. R. Melling. In a foreword she claims the story is a fictional presentation, but with so much autobiographical material I can’t help but wonder if she believes some version of this retreat happened to her, which makes me wonder what the attendees of said retreat were smoking to create such vivid hallucinations.

Sorry, sorry. Again, I thought I was ordering a horror novel. (Should have Googled the publisher, Hay House, but hindsight is 20/20.)

Each of Olwen’s intense mystical experiences is chronicled in excruciating detail. She relives childhood traumas of sexual abuse, a bad marriage, alcoholism and several failed relationships – it’s pretty intense. If you’re the sort of person who needs trigger warnings, here’s a few more to watch out for: Suicide. The Holocaust. Eating disorders. Cults. Loss of a child. Sex between minors. Sex between old people. I feel like I’m missing a few. The point is, every person attending the retreat is dealing with some heavy psychological stuff, and their demon-wrestling isn’t always successful.

The writing is very vivid and seriously psychedelic at times. The characters come from all walks of life, and many of them were very interesting. I was intrigued by Suzume, a young Japanese woman tormented by her difficult childhood and her years spent brainwashed in a cult, and by the Director, a leader clearly admired by many but reviled by Olwen. In fact, some of the most interesting moments in the book stem from the fact that Olwen’s often irrational and paranoid, so the reader knows she isn’t a reliable witness, but she’s the one telling the story so you have to work around her flaws.

Olwen also spends a lot of time hiding out in her room, tapping out journal entries on her laptop while scarfing down chocolate and trying to work up the courage to leave. Oddly, after all her adventures and everything I’ve read, this is what I remember most about her character.

It’s not a badly written book, although I think the author’s got a rather excitable style, judging from the many exclamation marks peppering the intense scenes. If you’re into New Age stuff, I think you’ll enjoy this book. But if it’s not your cup of tea, skip this story.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about People of the Great Journey, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: Sailor Moon Vol. 10 by Naoko Takeuchi
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until June 9th
2011: The Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato
2010: LEGO: A Love Story by Jonathan Bender
2009: The Other Queen y Philippa Gregory