Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Notes: "Glamorous Powers", by Susan Howatch

So, after I read "Glittering Images", by Susan Howatch, of course I had to go on to the next in the series: "Glamorous Powers".*

In "Glamorous Powers" our protagonist is Jon Darrow, the spiritual director who came to the rescue of the protagonist in the last book. At the beginning of "Glamorous Powers", Darrow is the abbot of an Anglican monastery and well-known for his excellence as a leader, a pastor of souls, and (bizarrely) as a gifted psychic.

You have to take Darrow's gifts as a given if you're going to enjoy this novel. Howatch does her best to position Darrow's abilities as a normal human trait that some people just happen to have, like perfect pitch or 20/20 vision. I don't know how much Howatch herself believes in this sort of gift, but I'll admit that she does a good job of integrating this whiff of the fantastical into the reality of her character's life: psychic phenomena are just part of the bushel of things Darrow has to deal with, right in line with his psychological hang-ups and his troubled relationships with his children.

At the beginning of the story, Darrow has been a monk for 17 years, and he receives what he believes is a call from God to leave the monastery. After he wrestles with this call and its implications (and with his monastic superior, the Abbot General), he begins the adventure of venturing back out into the secular world that he'd so happily put behind him.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the way Howatch skillfully conveyed the culture shock of a man who'd been cloistered for so long. In some ways, it reminded me of the many stories I've heard from ex-pat and missionary friends when they've returned to the States: what once was normal is now foreign, and readjustment is work.
This volume was just as enthralling as its predecessor, though perhaps a little less likeable. Darrow is, in many ways, a hard man to like, although he does have some traits that are very easy to admire. As always, I love the way Howatch shows through her stories that life is complex, and that the human heart is unfathomable, sinful, but also shot through with longing for goodness, truth, and beauty.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*I should have mentioned in my review, as Sherry does so well in her review here, that this series does have sexual content. Not any that's meant to titillate, as far as I can tell, but Howatch's characters are very well-drawn, and so their sexuality is described with the same sort of care that she uses to describe their spirituality and their physicality.

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gretchenjoanna said...

I read this series about 10 years ago, and was enthralled by it...well, at least until the last book, which I may not have finished, because it got too wacky for me or something. But overall, Howatch was just the author I needed at that time of my life, and it's fun to read your review here after all these years have passed.

Jessica Snell said...

Yes, I ended up wanting to stop at "The Wonder Worker" this time. But the rest of them are still really good. Glad you enjoyed the review! :)