Finished: Jan. 8, 2012
First Published: (2011, UK) Jan. 3, 2012 US
Genre: realistic fiction, Catholic, literary
It's beyond belief what you find between the pews, Mrs. Armitage was saying.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.
Reason for Reading: The Catholic plot intrigued me as well as the author being an Orange Prize winner.
Publisher's Summary: Mary-Margaret O'Reilly is seemingly a harmless enough young woman, ready and willing to help out Father Diamond in the Sacred Heart church in Battersea. She may not be very bright, and she is sadly overweight, but she can certainly clean. She is also very good with children, and helps out an Asian woman on her estate whose little boy Shamso is adorable.
It is the statue of Jesus on the cross Mary-Margaret is especially drawn to, and one day she decides to give Him a thorough and loving cleansing. But then something strange happens, and moments later she lies unconscious, a great gash in her head, blood on the floor. Word gets out that this strange happening is the opening of the statue's eyes and the flowing of blood from its head. Soon a full-scale religious mania descends on the quiet church, and everyone, from Father Diamond to his small but loyal band of parishioners, is affected by it. When she has recovered, Mary-Margaret returns to the church, and to her duties caring for her housebound and even fatter mother Fidelma. Among the parishioners, Stella Morrison meanwhile impatiently awaits the return of her son Felix from boarding school, and Alice Armitage the return of her much older son from Afghanistan.
Mary-Margaret goes back obsessively to the statue of Jesus. He has told her things, things she must act on, and urgently. But He has become remote and uncommunicative once again, and she is in despair. The act she decides on is a shocking one, and it will bring together the lives of the O'Reillys and the Morrisons in a way that will change their lives forever.
Francesca Kay's second novel, after the prize-winning AN EQUAL STILLNESS, is at once a profound meditation on the nature of faith and motherhood and a riveting story of passion gone tragically wrong.
This is a story of faith; of faith tested, lost, denied, renewed and tragically misplaced. The story is dark and it is sad but it is not without hope and redemption. A short book, it makes for a quick read and the book is more about characters than it is about action. A couple of events take place and the majority of the book then ruminates on how the characters react to and deal with those events. The characters are all wonderful. An assortment of Catholics, lapsed Catholics and non-religious. Each is an entirely real person with faults and each one the reader can find sympathy with. The story revolves around a young-ish priest who is undergoing a small crisis of faith at the time of the first event and he feels as if this state of his mind has made him unable to respond in the way in which he should have done thus making his personal crisis of faith feel even more burdensome to him. The characters all find themselves asking questions about their faith, or lack of it, without being able to come to an answer that is not found in the faith itself. I enjoyed the portrayal of a parish community and found some of the thoughts and ideas to be true, while others I quite disagreed with. But on the main, I wholeheartedly found the story to be thought-provoking and stimulating, sad and dark, yes, but redemptive and full of the mystery of the faith.
One does not need to share the faith of these characters to enjoy the book, but only wish to journey with them as they travel the paths that all people traverse when they put their lives in the hands of a power greater than them.