Dark Prayer by Natasha Mostert
Memory Palaces are cool things – if you can build one. They can take any shape or form provided you can enter the rooms in which you have stored the data and or the cupboard or vase or… Apparently they all began with a Greek named Simonides who visualised a room which had collapsed whilst he was in it. He was able through his visualisation to recall exactly where everyone was sitting and then used this technique to associate things he wanted to remember with walks through familiar places. Sherlock Holmes of course was a master of the memory palace.
In the same way, when I read a book, or newspaper, I can visualise the exact spot on which a sentence or advert is placed – the right page and whether top, bottom, left or right. This is not such a good trick as the full memory palace of course, as this can store anything or everything. There is still in fact a Mnemosyne project out there studying how we can improve our long term memory.
Who is Mnemosyne, I hear you ask? Well I didn’t know until I read a book called Pantheon a while back and then researched the Greek Myths afterwards to help me with it. Mnemosyne is the Titan goddess of memory and remembrance, inventiveness of languages and words
She is the daughter of Ouranos (Heaven) and thus also a goddess of Time. She represented rote memorisation which was required of course before the invention of writing. She was the mother of the Muses who were the patron goddesses of poets and the oral tradition. She presided over the underground oracle of Trophonios.
In Dark Prayer the characters play around with memory. They are concerned with how memory is stored and can we improve our memory – see Alzheimer’s – or store it in different ways. They were in many ways related to the mysticism of the late nineteenth century which led to the establishment of the Theosophical Society and other mystical treatises which linked magic to mysticism and memory enhancement. What I found very interesting were all the quotes from Meister Eckhart. Now Meister Eckhart was a mystic who wrote much earlier and was even about to be burnt at the stake by the Pope for heresy. He is much used still within the monastic tradition for what is known as Lectio Divina – whereby you contemplate a small statement from Meister Eckhart and see what it says to you. I participate in these weekends myself on a regular basis. We look at what the texts retrieve from our memories and what we associate with the words.
I found the writing style sufficient and elegant without any flowery unnecessary language but enough for you to visualise the experience, especially of the parkour or free running that some of the characters participate in. Parkour was a new term to me although I had seen many videos of free runners so I tracked it down – I am researcher at heart after all… it seems it is a holistic training discipline using movement that developed from the military obstacle course training.
Practitioners use only the human body and the surroundings for propulsion, with a focus on maintaining as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe. Although clearly there is always the potential for accidents and damage!
Do I recommend this book? Of course. But be prepared for mystic and ‘magic’ as that is what these practitioners believed in. 4*