Tag Archives: Christian literature

In the Company of Others – Jan Karon

   Summary (Amazon): Jan Karon’s new Father Tim series, launched with her New York Times bestselling Home to Holly Springs, thrilled legions of Mitford devotees, and also attracted a whole new set of readers. “Lovely,” said USA Today. “Rejoice!” said The Washington Post.

In this second installment in the series, Father Tim and Cynthia arrive in the west of Ireland, intent on researching his Kavanagh ancestry from the comfort of a charming fishing lodge. The charm, however, is broken entirely when Cynthia startles a burglar and sprains her already-injured ankle. Then a cherished and valuable painting is stolen from the lodge owners, and Cynthia’s pain pales in comparison to the wound at the center of this bitterly estranged Irish family.

In the Company of Others is a moving testament to the desperate struggle to hide the truth at any cost and the powerful need to confess. Of all her winning novels, Jan Karon says this “dark-haired child” is her favorite.

My Review:

Executive Summary: pensive

I borrowed this book for our book club book swap. It’s not a book that I would have picked by myself, which is why book swaps can really be a hit or a miss. In this case, it was a little of both.

The story is about an (American) Episocopal priest, Father (Reverend) Tim Kavanaugh and his wife Cynthia.  My understanding is that this is the second book in the “Father Tim” stories, and it’s one of a bunch of books in “The Mitford Series.” (I may be incorrect. I’m unfamiliar with this author.)

Tim and Cynthia decide to go on vacation to Ireland to a little B&B that Tim had visited many years earlier when he was a bachelor. They are planning to meet with Tim’s cousin and his wife to travel all around Ireland, but things don’t exactly go as planned. While there, Cynthia goes back up to her room and there is an intruder hiding in their wardrobe. He jumps out and flees out the window, but Cynthia is so startled, she turns her ankle and is all but bedridden for most of the trip (conveniently to prolong the story, as she gets better, she slips again setting herself back in recovery).

This mystery followed with the unsettled attitude surrounding nearly every family member of the inn’s owners is the basic premise for the story. The inn is owned by Liam and Anna. Anna’s daughter Bella is also around as well as Anna’s father, William. Liam’s mother and brother live nearby, and there is a great schism in their relationship. At the same time, Cynthia finds a journal written by the original builder of Liam’s mother’s place. So all the stories become intertwined. This honestly was very confusing to me at times because it was very difficult to keep track of all of the characters (as well as the extraneous characters who were also staying at the inn and people who Tim and Cynthia knew from home).

One by one, all of the main characters who were alive (begrudgingly at times) confess what is causing them anguish to either Father Tim or in some cases (Bella) to Cynthia. The reader finds out piecemealed that Anna’s father, William, was in love with Liam’s mother, Evelyn. Back in the day, he was a boxer, and by the time he got some sense into him and came back to her, she was already married and had had Liam’s brother Paddy. Liam was born only 9 months later, causing both Liam and Anna to separately believe that they might be half-siblings. Eleanor had a hard life, being abandoned by William, and then “causing” an explosion which killed her parents and siblings. (She didn’t actually cause the explosion; she merely opened the door causing oxygen to enter the already gas-laden house). She never mentally recovered from this and took out her anguish on everyone in her reach. In her old age, she needs to withdraw from alcohol as her liver is close to failure. During this, she also falls, injuring herself and is bedridden for all of the detox. Some combination of the detox, old age, and Father Tim causes her to repent and make her amends to everyone.

At the same time, the mystery of the intruder, and later in the story, the stolen painting, is traced back to Bella. An angsty teen, she recently moved back in with her mother, and is very unhappy with the lack of music as well as the solitude of the place. A previous employee named Jack Slade (obviously a baddie with a name like that) convinced Bella that he would get some money and take her to London with him. After helping him steal the painting and seeing the after-effect anguish that it had on her mother, Bella turns him in (he’s already in jail for stabbing a guy) and makes amends with Anna and Liam.

After solving all the problems in the area, and Cynthia’s ankle healing enough to be able to travel, Tim and Cynthia head off to Dublin for a few days before heading home, promising to visit again soon.

Verdict: 3 stars

I thought the book overall was good. It was lighthearted, and was not overly forceful on the religious aspects. The main drawback for me on the book was both its length (and associated lack of plot to sustain the length) as well as the overwhelming number of characters. The descriptive sections were great of the main (living) characters. It felt almost as though you knew them and felt like you were at the place. I felt it hard to follow the story of the characters in the journal, and despite one tie-in of the book to the current time, I did not really see the point of it. I wonder if I had read the prior book, if I would have enjoyed this book more.

 

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An Acceptable Time – Madeleine L’Engle

photo-1So my post last week about A Wrinkle in Time was referencing this book (which I had already begun). The Houston library is piddling around with the books I have requested and I hadn’t yet taken my journey to Half Price. So I scoured my bookcases for something I hadn’t read yet. Surprisingly (my collection of books is not that vast as I tend to borrow a lot of them), I ran across this book! Now I had read A Wrinkle in Time, The Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Wind in the Door as a child. How had I missed this one? So I did a little research (without spoiling anything for myself) and found out that there are 3, 4, or 5 books of the Wrinkle in Time series, depending on how you want to categorize it. If you are in the 5 book crowd, this book is the last one. (Apparently the 4th book, which I also have not read, is a prequel to the first three.) Its publishing date of 1989 makes me suspect that it fell into a black hole of me being too young to read it when it first came out, but forgetting that it existed when I was old enough. So I’m old enough now, I guess!

Polly O’Keefe is spending the autumn with her grandparents Drs. Kate and Alex Murray in Connecticut to get some better education than her crappy school in South Carolina (and also to escape the death of a friend). The last names ring a bell from the characters in A Wrinkle in Time and the reader soon finds out that Polly is Meg and Calvin’s daughter (and got Cal’s red hair). Only a page or two into the book, Polly goes for a walk and sees a strange man with a dog on her grandparents’ property, but when she gets to the tree he’s standing under, he’s no longer there. She continues further on her walk and finds Zachary, a college student who she met the previous summer in Greece. He seems keen on her while she seems to want to keep him at arms’ length. Either way, the book starts very quickly and a little peculiarly.

Zach comes inside to meet her grandparents and their friends, the siblings Louise (a doctor) and Nase (a bishop) Columbra. Zach is currently doing an internship nearby in Hartford with a boss who is strangely interested in Ogam stones. Nase also is interested in these ancient stones, having found a few around his and the Murray’s property. (Ogam stones are associated with druids from ancient Britain.) and the two begin to discuss them. After dinner and Zach’s departure, Polly goes for a swim in her grandparent’s indoor pool. While swimming, she hears a tapping on the window and meets an unusual girl who asks her about Karralys (the man she saw earlier with the dog) and then quickly runs away.

After her swim, Polly tells Nase about her strange encounter. Nase is quite surprised but encourages her to tell her grandparents and Louise. They all but dismiss her, but Polly decides to learn some Ogam, as she is a gifted linquist. The following morning, she goes for a walk and stumbles upon a lake and soon realizes that she has gone through some sort of space-time continuum (tesseract) and is now 3000 years in the past. She meeting Anaral (Annie) who was the girl at the pool, Karralys the druid officially, and Tav, the warrior. She also learned that Bishop Columbra had also visited these People of the Wind.

Unsurprisingly when she returns to her own time, she confronts the bishop and the situation is discussed with Louise and Polly’s grandparents. They conclude that there must be a reason for Polly to have tessered and since she is now involved, it would be too dangerous for her to leave the area. Her grandparents want her to avoid going to the star watching rock where she first entered the tesser at least until after Halloween and she agrees.

However, her love for swimming gets her into trouble. She is awakened by the pool beckoning her to come swim. There she discovers a crown which upon placing on her head, causes her to return the past. She listens in on a tribe meeting discussing the lack of rain, and that a human sacrifice, of Polly, should be conducted to appease the Mother. Karralys (who disagrees with the sacrifice) removes Polly’s crown, for her safety, thereby sending her back to the present.

This time, her grandparents are (understandably) far more freaked out and decide that she should not go walking around the property at all. When Zachary arrives again, he is curious what is going on, and the whole weird situation is explained to him. Bishop Columbra, who is supposed to meet them, never arrives. Zachary, being a self-absorbed ass, is desperate to travel back to the People of the Wind so they can fix his heart (apparently damaged from rheumatic fever). When they arrive back in time, they find the Bishop and Annie being carried off by warriors from the tribe across the lake. Polly “summons” (aka coincidentally is there when) Louise the Larger, the black snake from her grandparents’ land,  arrives scaring the warriors away and immediately making Polly a goddess who can control snakes.

Talking to the bishop reveals that the opening to the present is now closed, leaving him, Polly and Zachary trapped in the past. During the raid, two of the “People across the Lake” were injured and left–Klep, the future leader, and Brown Earth, who  soon persuades Zachary to return to the People across the Lake with him because “they have a better healer”. With Zachary gone, another raid happens to the People of the Wind and Polly is captured and taken across the lake. It is obvious that Polly is there to be sacrificed although Zachary continues to insist that she is there so that he can be healed. The sacrifice is to happen during the full moon so she has a few days to figure out her plan, which sort of dissolves in the end anyway. At the last possible moment, Zachary realizes that he is a self-absorbed idiot and refuses to let Polly be sacrificed, and the two of them are rescued by the People of the Wind. Karralys, who is also a master healer, helps heal Zachary’s heart, even though he didn’t deserve it. Klep and Annie agree to be married, connecting the two groups of people. Tav is sad to see Polly go, but she, Zachary and the Bishop return to the present permanently. Polly tells Zachary to never contact her again. (hooray!)

Zachary, to me, was the perfect dislikeable character. Initially, he seems like a bit of a stalker. And then we find out that he is a self-absorbed jerk (proclaimed by him). And then we find out that he really is a self-absorbed jerk by his actions. When Polly escaped from the People across the Lake, I thought “ok, leave him”. But that’s because I’m not very nice. And it’s a fictional story. L’Engle is nice. She allows Zachary to be saved, despite the fact that he probably didn’t deserve it. I think this is a statement of her religious beliefs.

L’Engle was an Episcopalian (fairly devout as far as I can tell). Her view is that of universal salvation (all people will be redeemed by God) and has the following quote, “I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love.” This statement rings true in many ways in the book–the saving of Zachary, the love between Annie and Klep, the forgiveness of Zachary for almost having Polly sacrificed. The book itself has a lot of obvious religious connections. One of the main characters is a (presumably Episcopalian since he was married) bishop. The book title itself is from Psalm 69:13. Maybe the most obvious is when Polly begins singing the hymn and realizes that “Christ in the hearts of all who love me” is still a valid statement despite Christ not existing for another 1000 or so years.

Verdict:

Overall, I’d say this book is closer to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series than the previous (more sci-fi) novels of L’Engle. Or perhaps I just was old enough to realize that I was being slyly given rhetoric. 🙂 Overall, it was a good read, but I tend to prefer a bit more science in my science-fiction. I’m going to give this a 3.5 star.

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