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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Seven Churches

Miloš Urban

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To purchase The Seven Churches

Title: The Seven Churches
Author: Miloš Urban
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 300 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: The Seven Churches - US
The Seven Churches - UK
The Seven Churches - Canada
The Seven Churches - India
Les Sept-Eglises - France
Die Rache der Baumeister - Deutschland
Sette chiese - Italia
Las siete iglesias - España
  • or The Heptecclesion
  • Czech title: Sedmikostelí
  • A Gothic Novel of Prague
  • Translated by Robert Russell

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Our Assessment:

B : odd modern Gothic novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 7/3/2002 Sabine Brandt
The Prague Post . 27/10/2010 Stephan Delbos
Die Zeit . 18/10/2001 Tobias Gohlis

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doch der Eindruck hält nie lange, denn im Gegensatz zu den verewigten Kollegen erreicht Autor Urban in seinen Horrorszenarien nirgends die herzbeklemmende Selbstverständlichkeit, mit der das Entsetzliche sich als Bestandteil des Alltäglichen offenbart." - Sabine Brandt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Extreme passions, bloodbaths and attitudes toward architecture bordering on the occult all have their place in Gothic novels. And readers of such novels are usually unrepentant in their enthusiasm, an attitude this reviewer does not share. That said, The Seven Churches is an extremely suspenseful novel set in the mother of all Gothic cities. The book is entertaining and enjoyable, if only as a mirror to see one's own urban experience reflected and contrasted, no matter how unbelievably." - Stephan Delbos, The Prague Post

  • "Die Rache der Baumeister ist kein Krimi klassischer Machart, in dem es um Verbrechen und ihre Aufdeckung geht. Das suggeriert zwar der deutsche Verlag im Untertitel, aber der junge tschechische Autor Milos Urban ist auf Spannenderes aus. Ihm geht es, mit deutlichen Verweisen auf die Klassiker der Gothic Novel, um die Wiederbelebung des Schauerromans." - Tobias Gohlis, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Seven Churches is, indeed, as the subtitle of the English edition has it, A Gothic Novel of Prague. It is steeped in the Gothic -- both Prague's tradition of Gothic architecture, as well as a tradition of Gothic literature, from Horace Walpole through E.T.A.Hoffmann through Gustav Meyrink. It is no surprise here that when the narrator is feeling low it is immersing himself in a pile of Gothic novels that his landlady gives him that 'cures him' -- and leaves him: "more in tune with myself". The narrator's tune, too, is entirely Gothic.
       The narrator is somewhat coy about his name, and initially reluctant to reveal it (though not that he's embarrassed by it, which he mentions repeatedly). At first he reveals himself only as 'K', which is what he took to calling himself in high school. But the apparent Kafkaesque allusion is only a feint -- and the name not such a big secret after all. His family name turns out to be Švach -- clearly meant to echo the German 'schwach' ('weak'), which is what he turns out to be. (His first name, beginning with a K, apparently also has resonances in the Czech (he decries it as: "a name for weaklings and losers"); even so, the big reveal turns out to be a fairly little one, and it's kind of a letdown after all the fuss he makes about it.)
       When the novel opens, K comes across a rather gory crime scene. A former policeman who just recently lost his job, he soon finds himself in the middle of an investigation, as apparently connected (and similarly horrific -- at one crime scene all they find are the victim's legs ...) crimes are being committed in modern-day Prague.
       After the initial savage crime, K slowly introduces himself, and explains his sorry situation -- including how he lost his job with the police for an embarrassing dereliction of what should have been a relatively easy duty. He also fills in more background, explaining how he came to study history at university in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the time of the Czech transition from one state to another. But instead of focusing on contemporary change, even then K was more fascinated by the Middle Ages. Obsessed with his own interests, he never finished his university degree, and instead became a policeman -- meeting only limited success here, as well ("you never excelled in any way", his former boss recalls).
       But it is his fascination with the Gothic, and this unusual series of crimes, that finally lets K find his true calling. Enlisted to help investigate, he finally finds himself appreciated by the like-minded -- who note:

Their history is dead; ours is living. Here we are, having a simple unscholarly chat about the past -- we're living the past ! What does it matter if a few facts escape us or if we don't have all the answers ? The important thing is the feeling it arouses in us.
       This is exactly what K wants to hear (so much so that in this case even he has to wonder: "Was he saying this only for my sake ?"). In many respects, K lives in the distant past -- not his own, but that of the Middle Ages. Modernity, and all the changes his country and especially his city have undergone (and are undergoing), have passed him by; he wants to return to and remain rooted in the great Gothic age.
       The buildings of the time -- the Gothic churches -- and the crimes committed there are all part of the bigger picture that K finds himself in. And it is a very big picture -- a grand theory of the world and existence. As he is eventually told:
Human morality and architectural morality go hand in hand. If life on earth is to be preserved we must never again allow our holy places to be overshadowed by the beastly boxes that pass as buildings in the temporal world, as was the fate of so many of our churches
       Yes, The Seven Churches is a mystery-thriller of sorts - but definitely of a very Gothic sort. The murders: "had been conceived as aesthetic spectacles", for example. And K is more a pawn than an investigator -- though even as he is being used he is also made part of this grand vision and design, finally finding the role he was meant to play, in what is, ultimately, this new old world.
       It makes for a decidedly odd thriller, with a strangely conservative message (that may well have had considerable appeal in the rapidly changing eastern Europe of the 1990s). It is also love letter to classical Prague -- Urban revels in its old architectural glories, and in its Gothically-steeped alleyways and the like ... --, and as such The Seven Churches has considerable appeal as a city-novel -- though he does play those (old fashioned) Prague-stereotypes (architectural and literary) to the hilt.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 August 2012

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The Seven Churches:
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Reviews: Miloš Urban: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Miloš Urban was born in 1967.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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