What it’s about:
I first read this book probably about 15 years ago. It was my first example of the wonderful work of Susan Howatch, and probably still counts as my all time number one.
This story starts with Alice Fletcher, encountering the staff and the existence of the Healing Centre of St. Benet’s by the Wall, and a version of faith that is quite at odds with her experience.
Written in beautifully evocative language, with characters of incredible depth, every time someone asks me for a book recommendation, this is one I unfailingly refer to.
What I Love:
- How the story is told from the perspectives of several of the novels’ centrals characters- it’s amazing how Howatch is able to encourage the reader to deeply empathise with all the characters, even whilst they’re not at their best.
- Alice- The story of her personal evolution is extremely touching.
- The way (and this is typical throughout many of Howatchs’ novels) she utilises both psychological and spiritual language to express complex truths, about the people and the world in which we live.
My Favourite Quotes:
- “I go back to the Rectory for lunch and find Stacy chasing a mouse around the kitchen with a frying pan. Bad news. The mouse escapes and Stacy breaks the frying pan. More bad news.” Lewis Hall
- “Yet I found I could do nothing with that statement because in our family women always did go on. They kept a stiff upper lip and never complained because, as Mummy had always said, that was the spirit which built the Empire. But in 1988 the beat of a very different drum was now thundering in my ears and I suddenly found myself asking the revolutionary question: What Empire?” Rosalind Maitland
- “Alice had the most beautiful psyche, supple as an athlete’s body and glowing in richly patterned strands of warmth, compassion and understanding. I’d been aware of it as soon as we’d met, though at the time it had been disfigured by so much anxiety and pain. The extreme beauty of this aspect of Alice, an aspect invisible to the eye, was why I’d taken such a special interest in her.” Nicholas Darrow