Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Notes: "The Dean's Watch", by Elizabeth Goudge

"The Dean's Watch", by Elizabeth Goudge, is a historical novel set in a cathedral city and, as such, it reminded me very much of Susan Howatch's Starbridge series

But Goudge is so much warmer, so much truer, so much more joyful.

You can read my commonplace entry for some quotations that might give you an idea of Goudge's style, but here's a short summary of the plot: 

Mr. Peabody is a watchmaker who has scratched together a creative and satisfying work life while still suffering the depression and spiritual terror that is the legacy of his abusive father. The Dean is a powerful, intelligent, and yet socially shy man who serves God with dedication while lacking (or denying himself) the human connection he craves. Miss Montague is a disabled old woman who has learned how to love, and so changes almost everyone she meets. These cathedral town denizens -- and many more beautifully drawn characters -- all interact in a drama of pain and redemption and sorrow and joy.

I loved this book. 

I have to start with that, because anything else would be less than honest. I didn't know Christian fiction could do this. I didn't know it could be this honest, this real -- and by that I mean that it could be this truthful both about the weird, twisted ways sin hampers and distorts us, while also being gloriously, beautifully honest about the transforming, transporting love of God.
The characters are recognizable. Sometimes even painfully so. Goudge's portraits of unhappy families, and the ways they are unhappy, are so true to life. The big and the tiny things that keep us separated from each other. The ways that we long for each other but just cannot get past ourselves.

The way God sometimes helps us to get past ourselves anyway.

I loved the Dean and his earnest, courageous courtesy. I loved Miss Montague and her endurance.

And for their sakes I even loved the poor Mr. and Miss Peabody.

There were a few weird details that reminded me that I was reading a book from a different time and place, but that's to be expected when you're reading an author who isn't looking through the lens of your own cultural concerns.

But that's the only sour note I can think of, and it isn't even that sour. This is just a spectacular book. I read it slowly, and savored it, because every time I opened it, I felt like I had walked outside into the fresh, rain-washed air. I borrowed it from the library, but I don't think I was even halfway through before I ordered my own copy. It was that good.

Go read it! And be refreshed.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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Carol in Oregon said...

Hi Jessica,

I'm here from your link at the Semicolon blog. This is one of my favorite books. When I read it, I at once ordered five copies of it to give to my friends. I gave it to my sister who was burdened with many sickness and immobility. She died (unexpectedly, and yet not surprisingly) in January. Your review compels me to reread this book, perhaps with different eyes.

Also, I did not have a commonplace book when I read this, and I would love to glean from a full harvest of quotes.

And also with you,
Carol Bakker at A Living Pencil

Charlotte said...

I reread this one most Christmases, and it makes me cry like a baby (in a good way) everytime!

Jessica Snell said...

Carol - if you do gather your own quotations and blog about it, please come back and leave a comment! I'd love to see which gems stood out to you. :)

Charlotte - that sounds like the perfectest of Christmas traditions. :D

Carol in Oregon said...

I will leave your comment in my inbox as a reminder to do that.

I just pared that same inbox down to 50 emails, a feat of endurance and triumph. And I found something interesting: There was the email from your blog notifying me of a new comment. And a few emails down there was an email from Mars Hill Audio (in my inbox because I haven't listened to it yet) with an interview with RJ Snell. Relation?

I will admit to being a snoop and checking out your Facebook page. AND discovering that we have a common friend, Juliet SN! So there you are!

I remain thankful for your reminder to revisit Goudge's The Dean's Watch.

Jessica Snell said...

I don't think I'm related to an RJ Snell - but I do know Juliet! We go to church together. :) (Though she'll soon be leaving us - weddings just do bring that sort of change... :) )

Carol in Oregon said...

Juliet is a jewel! I'm glad to have this connection with you.