Genre

Historical Fiction

Audience

11th grade and Up

Author’s Worldview

Catholic

Year Published

2011

Themes

Modernity, WWII, WWI, nuns, priests, priesthood, vocations, prayer, intercessory prayer, saints, suffering, end of times

 

Reviewed by

A.R.K. Watson

This novella is comprised of a collection of fictional letters sent by a man in England to his friend in Europe at the start of the 20th century. The first few letters mostly revolve around descriptions of Miss Magdalen Montague, for whom the writer carries a deep romantic admiration. But let’s be frank here: the writer is a stalker, and not the innocent, awkward kind. It is clear that he is the sort of rebellious person who takes pride in debauchery and irreverence, and who bears a superstitious level of animosity toward anything holy or pure.

His overblown grief and outrage when his object of obsession enters a Catholic convent is, therefore, difficult not to enjoy.

It will be clear to the Catholic reader that Magdalen’s prayers and intercession continue to haunt this man for the rest of his life. Just when his despair leads him to a state that hints at demonic oppression, he miraculously finds his way into the arms of the Church he once despised. The letters between him and his still stubbornly heretical friend become more spaced out as his conversion strains their friendship. Still, these letters trace the two men’s paths as they encounter one, then two, world wars. Much like in her novel, A Bloody Habit, Nicholson starts out making us laugh at her protagonists, but by the end we are instead moved to grief for their sufferings. The whole story is a beautiful meditation on the lies and temptations of modernity, and how we as Christians and Catholics encounter the world and keep faith when it feels as though the world is going to end. Reading this on the heels of a global pandemic was oddly comforting. If you need something short and entertaining to refill your cup with hope, this little novella is an excellent choice.

Having read her book, A Bloody Habit, I was already familiar with Nicholson’s talent for the tone and style of writing common in pre-20th century England, and I was not disappointed. If you are a fan of Victorian literature, Chesterton, or any of the Inklings, you will find this an enjoyable story, with prose on par with the quality of Lewis or Tolkien. Protestant Christian readers may find this just as beneficial if they have no aversion to loving descriptions of Mary. However, this is probably not the best book to give to a secular friend who hasn’t yet clued into the pitiable comedy of many modern heresies. But for Catholics, Nicholson is the very voice of ironic and cathartic humor.

Subscribe

Subscribe to Catholic Reads to get access to Catholic Literature from 50% off to FREE

Finnian and the Seven Mountains (Vol. 1) by Philip Koslowski, Michael Lavoy, and Jim Fern

Join Finnian as his quest for a legendary sword takes him to the monks of Skellig Michael, a real life inspiration for the Jedi temple.

Gelen by Colleen Drippe

Fr. Ruiz has little idea what he’s getting into when he takes a post on the isolated and pagan planet of Fen.

Nowhither by John C. Wright

Ilya Muromets fights off a dozens of tempting sirens and finally grows into the man he needs to be to defeat the Dark Tower.

McCracken and the Lost Lady by Mark Adderley

McCracken gives us the grounded swashbuckling Catholic hero that our inner child has always wanted.

Lance and the Veil by Kevin Rush

She was Christ’s comforter, he, his executioner. Can the two find love in each other’s arms?

The City and The Dungeon by Matthew P. Schmidt

Who knew fighting monsters in a D&D dungeon could convince him that not everything can be attributed to a chance roll of the dice?

Feel-Good Books For Pandemic Summer

Book Therapy to chase the blues away

Through the Ashes by Jacqueline Brown

Fans of The 100 and Runaway’s and The Gifted will find this YA story riveting.

Markmaker by Mary Jessica Woods

Aboard a world-ship, in an alien society, one artist’s quest for truth will turn his whole society upside down.

Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis

Sherlock Holmes teams up with Pope Leo XXIII to solve crimes in the Holy City.

McCracken and the Lost Oasis by Mark Adderley

A swashbuckling adventure into Catholic history and archeology.

The Joining by J. H. Dierking

The aliens will surprise you and lead you into greater insight into how our own bodily design determines much of what is considered right and wrong.

The Poppy and The Rose by Ashlee Cowles

While abroad in England, Taylor discovers a mystery linking her to an heiress and passenger aboard The Titanic.

August & September New Book Releases

Step into Fall with a Good Book

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

This two part graphic novel tells its story from 2 sides China’s bloody civil war: A Boxer Rebel & a “traitor” Christian-Convert.

Somewhither by John C. Wright An Unwhithering Realm

What if the Multi-verse were not a theory to disprove God? What if he created it, and all humanity must unite to fight the powers of Babel?

Books for Lent

Deepen your Lenten reflection with these stories of repentance and forgiveness

The Wind That Shakes The Corn: Memoirs of a Scots Irish Woman by Kaye Park Hinckley

Sold into slavery on her wedding night, an 18th-century Irishwoman struggles to free herself from her thirst for vengeance.

A Printer’s Choice by W.L. Patenaude

The first nation in space has sworn off religion, but now they need the help of Fr. McCellan to solve a murder and save them from religious terrorists.