Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

The latest book in the challenge was actually 3-novels-in-one-volume (sort of like the Trinity...but not quite.) called The Parish Papers.  I picked it up on a whim at half price books.  George MacDonald wrote these novels as serials--you know, back in the day (in his case, the late 1800's day) magazines and newspapers published a chapter at a time?  I can't even imagine reading a novel like that, but it seems to have worked for people.  Anyway, you can sort of tell that this was a serial, as each chapter stands on its own a little and the beginning of the next chapter helps you catch up a bit.  Mildly tedious but not too bad.

What was more tedious is that the main character, Rev. Walton (often referred to just as "parson") doesn't seem to know how to listen but he does know how to talk!  At first, every conversation he has turns from a two-way into a didactic theological monologue.  He gets a little better as the story progresses, but he still really likes to talk.

19th century novels, even when they've been "cleaned up" for "the modern reader" can be kind of slow sometimes, and occasionally the speech patterns are hard to follow if you aren't paying close attention.  It wasn't a huge problem, but it was noticeable if I was reading while tired.

Anyway--there's not a ton of action (though there seems to be more disturbing action in Walton's parish than mine!) but there is some interesting character, relationship, and theological/faith development.  The third book in the volume is written from the perspective of the oldest daughter and was probably my favorite.

So anyway, if you're looking for a portrait of late 19th century church of england, here it is.  If you're looking for theology-in-a-story, here's some.  The main theological point is the same as the Shack:  trust in God, trust in God, trust in God.  Easier said than done, which is lived out by each character in the story at various points.  Some of the theology is old and more evangelical than I like, some is unhelpful (telling a dying woman, whose husband just died, that God "chasteneth those whom He loveth") but if you can get past it, the story does move along.  It's interesting to think about how people of one class befriend those of other classes, how relationships develop, what faith-friends might look like, etc.

It was a fun read, in other words, but not the kind of book you can pay only a little attention to. 


  1. 19th c. novels are slow?! Blasphemy! You sound like my students! I had to read the first 3 chapters of Pride and Prejudice out loud (and with voices) today to show how exciting 19th c. literature can be. I could barely talk by the end of class.

    And you've read serialized novels before. They were probably just better written than this one. All of the great Dickens novels and most of George Eliot's were serialized.

  2. I know they were--I still think that when they're compiled into books they lose a little something, you know? Not unlike watching TV shows on DVD and actually watching the "last week on ____" bit at the beginning.

    I wouldn't call this book a literary masterpiece. Clearly not all 19th century novels are slow (after all, I do love Austen!). But the writing style can be slightly ponderous. I'm just saying. (this is not to say that modern novels can't also be ponderous....)