Gail Godwin, 1999
You probably don’t recall this, but I’ve included this book on more than one of my “Nightstand” posts as a book I am about to read, am reading, have stopped reading and need to start again, etc. I think I’ve had it on my proverbial nightstand for about two years.
I finished the book half an hour ago, and while I won’t provide any spoilers, the timing of completion was uncannily in sync with the timing of significant events in my own life. The events aren’t similar at all, but calendar-wise there are some interesting parallels. Therefore, it’s tempting for me, with my metaphysical bent, to declare I didn’t finish it two years ago because I was meant to read it now. Honestly though – it’s just that the book has an exceedingly slow initial trajectory and requires strong intent to get into one’s reading groove.
This novel is the first-person narrative of Episcopal priest Margaret Bonner as she deals with varying levels of strife within her family, her congregation, and her community in a small Smoky Mountain town. The third Millennium is nearly upon the residents of High Balsam, and its advent (during Advent, actually) brings life-changing events for everyone – but especially for Margaret, her husband Adrian, and the newly arrived quasi-family members who share their home. I was struck by two things:
- Almost every character had a British accent in my head, until I had finished at least half of the book. I think this is due in part to Godwin’s writing style. Example: Margaret’s husband Adrian calls her a “stubborn girl.” How British. Also, their names are Margaret and Adrian. One is almost required to speak those names as the queen would pronounce them.
- I noted similarities in character between Margaret Bonner and the Reverend Merrily Watkins, protagonist of Phil Rickman’s series about a British priest and exorcist. Both women are remarkably unguarded and willing to appear vulnerable. The two characters inhabit vastly different worlds, and neither author is a priest, unless I’ve missed something. How interesting that they have created characters with such similarities. (This could also be why I gave everyone an accent while I was reading.)
If you’ve read any of Madeleine L’Engle’s adult fiction, you will find that this book has a similar feel – notably in both authors’ tendency to attribute adult speaking style and behavior to children and adolescents. The story is engaging, and at some points it’s a page-turner – but it does take a while to find one’s stride when reading.