In 1940, Jon Darrow, a man who has played many parts, returns to the world he once renounced. But faced with many unforeseen temptations, he fails to control his psychic powers. Corruption lies in wait for him, threatening his future as a priest.
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As a fan of Howatch's Starbridge series, I knew what to expect from this wonderful book and it did not disappoint! The highest compliment I can give to a narrator is that they are the wind beneath the wings of the story - not a distraction. The narration seemed flawless. The book itself? There's deft handling of dialogue from rich, fully drawn characters and an absorbing plot that fleshes out themes of personal spirituality, corporate religion, struggles with the flesh, and complicated human relationships. This book can stand alone, as all of Howatch's books may be read independently. Reading other books in the series (each narrated by a different character) gives eye opening perspective and incredible richness to Howatch's complex and fascinating world. The author wrote most of the series while living in view of the gorgeous, medieval Salisbury Cathedral in the Cathedral Close.This is a series I reread every couple of years when I begin to miss the characters - thankfully, now I can get some things accomplished while listening to these old favorites on my ipod! I highly recommend this title.
I was intrigued at first with this book. I was disappointed with it when it fianlly ended. The story is a narrative from a monk with the Church of England at the beginning of WWII, a time not often depicted in stories about monks. I soon found I was learning a great deal about the Church of England of modern times (I am old enough to see it as "modern"), but, as with most stories placed cloistered environments there was a clear definition of the characters to like and dislike, love and hate. While it felt formula-based, it was interesting all the same. Sometimes the narrator didn't seem genuine in some of the characters' statements, often inferring some attitude that I was not sure was intended. I found this a little distracting. But, as the story progressed it seemed to be taking a totally unexpected turn, moving from the monastery into the world so foreign to the 17-year monk. More interesting information about the way the Church functioned and how it reintroduced its isolated members into the traditional world. I was still enjoying it, but feeling like the story was getting lost a bit. Then the bad-buys became good-guys and the good drifted into the bad side, and it all became a little muddled. Clearly the author was well-versed in the Church and its willingness to care for its own, about modern psychologhy and even current views on metaphysical theories, although I am not convinced that these were applicable in the 1940's. However, the last 3rd of this very lengthy story just got lost. The author spent more time psychoanalyzing the characters, and the value of understanding and forgiveness than on resolving the conflicts in the story. I was actually relieved when the story ended, but then the narrator continued on with a monologue from the author. "Give it up ", I thought, and stopped the recording. I felt like the author or editors were either trying to justify the dismal twist of the story or convert their audience into some belief or another. I didn't not wait to see.
Personally, I'd not say this was a bad book. I came away feeling I had learned some bit more about a world otherwise foreign to me. I DID find myself agreeing with the author's overt lessons about listening, understanding, and forgiving others and oneself for perceived transgressions, and I did enjoy the voice of the narrator, if not his intrepretation of some of the dialogs. However, I also understand that for most readers, these are not necessarily good selling points. Based on the story alone, I found this book wonting. I was very disappointed, and if I were not almost obsessive about finishing books I have started, I probably would have gently set this one aside at the midpoint and moved on.
If you would like to learn more about the Church of England and how it is structured, or a bit more about charismatic healing and the connections between psychic healing, the Church and how Devine energy, focused energy, prayer and mysticism all interconnect (at least according to this author), this is a fine example. But, do not expect a strong story line. It simply is not there. Sorry.