Sunday, November 12, 2017

Book Review: "The Mass of Brother Michel"

This is a novel set in 16th century France with a slight backdrop of the religious conflict between Catholics and Huguenots. It's partially a family story and partially a vocation story. The book was originally published in the 1940's and Kirkus Review noted that it was perfect for Catholic readership. According to the current publisher, Angelico Press:

The Mass of Brother Michel, set in the tranquil countryside of southern France during the Reformation, is the story of a young man who “has it all”—until a fateful series of events leads him to a monastery. As Huguenot violence mounts, the characters of the story are pushed to extremes of hatred and love. The reader is swept along by a narrative as twisting and turbulent as a mountain stream, which culminates in a sovereign sacrifice as unforgettable as it was unforeseen. This is a story that shows with utter vividness the power of romantic love to cripple and deform, the power of suffering to undermine illusions and induce the labor of self-discovery, the power of prayer to reassemble the shards of the shattered image of God in the soul, and the power of the priest as the divine Physician’s privileged instrument.
At the center of the novel is the awesome mystery, scandal, consolation, and provocation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To it some of the characters are irresistibly drawn; against it, others are violently arrayed. Here is a passionately told tale of their inner struggle and outward confrontation. No reader will fail to be astonished at its outcome and touched by its inspiring and miraculous climax.
The trouble I had while reading the novel was that the time period was never very clear--the characters were well-drawn and fleshed out, especially the villains--but I could not really tell that France was torn by religious civil war. The action of the novel is so domestic and insular that the Wars of Religion faded to the background. It also troubled me that the crucial event of the novel, the one action that set all the complications of the family into motion and led to the central conflict of the plot, was reported at second hand. It was a scene that merited a first-hand description in my opinion. The novel was so focused on the interior life of the characters that historical and fictional events were all at a remove. I always expect fiction to show me action, to describe and depict events. Michael Kent focuses so much on the thoughts and internal struggles of the hero and heroine, and to lesser extent, the villains of the story, that it's more of a meditation than a novel. 

The subjects of its meditation, the monastic vocation, marriage, the priesthood, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist, are all worthy of the detail and care the author takes. As a novel, I'd have to give it three stars; as a religious meditation and exploration of good and evil, I'd gift it four stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment