The book you have before you has captivated and moved generations of readers. It is the story of three people thrown together accidentally, whose lives then become inseparable, and emotionally fraught as a consequence. Searchers in the Valley of Monuments moves slowly but inexorably towards its tragic end, though there are moments of high comedy along the way. But the dominant mood is one of confusion. Is Sir Digby, the pivotal figure of this dramatic trio, a saint or a moral barbarian? Or is he just an ordinary man with a mixture of qualities, good and bad? Told many times of his beneficence, we never see any actual sign of it. Is Lucinda in love with Sir Digby, or does she really hate him? The narrative gives us evidence in both directions, held in a tension that remains unresolved. We know, because this is made plain early on, that the 'searchers' of the title are the three protagonists themselves, trying to find a way through the vortex of passion, evasion, deceit and day-to-day chores, each to his or her own resting point, his or her own personal truth. But what and where is the 'valley of monuments'? And why monuments? There has been many a critical hypothesis about this, but none of them entirely satisfactory.
Most ambiguously of all, William, the story's narrator, leaves much about his relations towards and feelings for Sir Digby and Lucinda, and even much about himself, in obscurity. Had he previously met Sir Digby, as he once or twice hints? Is he, for his part, in love with Lucinda? Why does he occasionally refer to himself as Guillaume, and once as Odo, in an altogether matter-of-fact way? William could be telling us what really happened between him, Sir Digby and Lucinda over the seven years before the disappearance of one of them, though we are never sure which one. But he could also be lacing his tale with elements of fantasy; and we cannot know which parts of the history he relates are meant to be true and which are purely of his invention.
Certain critics of Searchers in the Valley of Monuments have been severe, seeing it as a farrago of inconsistencies, poor characterization and obtuseness about motive. Dr Lucy Strong has assembled an impressive list of the book's narrative anomalies. Others have found the story tedious despite its brevity. The reputation of Searchers remains secure nonetheless. The critical consensus today is that it is a modernist masterpiece and the author's most accomplished work. It is also a fecund source of interpretation, counter-interpretation, reinterpretation and imitative pastiche. You may not always have a clear idea of why these three characters act as they do, but you will be drawn on in the hope of enlightenment - always deferred. I do not remember how many times I've read this book. Once you enter its world you are trapped there forever.