Writer and blogfriend Christine Poulson and I have decided to do another of our joint booklists – we publish them on the same day, and encourage readers to look at both lists, and add their own suggestions in the comments of either blog. This time we’ve chosen a religious theme: our last joint venture was the WW2 homefront, and there are links to the other pieces there.
So these are my top eight books with a church or cathedral setting: click here to see Chrissie’s.
Barbara Pym Excellent Women – most of Pym’s books have a significant church presence in them: I have chosen this one because it is one of my favourites, and also because the plotline concerning the vicar, his sister and the glamorous widow is particularly Pym-esque. The London parish in post-war days is beautifully described and very real, while the fractured relationships shown are funny, but also affecting and all too imaginable.
Dorothy L Sayers The Nine Tailors – magic in the fens. Again, the village of Fenchurch St Paul, the church and the vicar are so beautifully realized that when you drive around the area you half-expect to come across the village. Lord Peter Wimsey happens upon the place by accident one New Year’s Eve, and gets caught up in a complicated crime case. The vicar (apparently based on Sayers’s father) is a lovely character, and the church descriptions and the bell-ringing sequences are wonderful.
Francesca Kay Translation of the Bones is very much contemporary. It is a beautiful book describing life in an RC parish in London, and a possible miracle. It takes a serious look at everyday moral choices, and at faith and belief. But it is also entertaining, and funny, and compelling, and touching.
Michael Arditti Easter - again contemporary, this time set in an Anglican church in London. Arditti is an acquired taste – this is strong stuff, and he can be very melodramatic, but he is also funny and clever and skewers modern mores very nicely.
Edmund Crispin Holy Disorders This is a real Cathedral Close mystery – who has attacked the organist? – and reflects Crispin’s own knowledge of church music. Clerics are always supposed to be great fans and writers of detective stories, and there are a lot of them revolving around churches. In this one the cathedral clergy are said to be ‘great readers – they have little else to do.’
Michael David Anthony The Becket Factor Anthony wrote three detective stories set around Canterbury Cathedral in the 1990s: this was the first one. I think they are largely forgotten now, but I enjoyed them. They are an odd combination of traditional golden age church detection, and some very modern plot threads, and a bit of Cold War action too. All three books are great fun when you are in the mood for that kind of thing.
J Meade Falkner The Nebuly Coat I only discovered this book last year, despite the same author’s Moonfleet being a great favourite of mine. Nebuly Coat is an absolutely wonderful book, a five-star read, one I am so glad to have found. It’s set in a small–town cathedral and concerns organists and church architects, mysteries and love. It is very hard to define, and at the end the reader has to make up his or her own mind about some of the plot happenings. It inspired The Nine Tailors (above), and is reminiscent of books from Dickens and Hardy and Trollope. And it is superb.
TS Eliot Murder in the Cathedral A play rather than a novel - and not the detective story it sounds like. A wonderful verse drama about the last days in the life of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his own cathedral after a dispute with his former friend, King Henry II. A riveting story, and beautiful poetry.
So those are my choices. Check out Christine Poulson’s here, and please add your own suggestions below.
PS Hilary McKay is Friday's author and so by special arrangement gets added on here: she wanted to nominate Elizabeth Goudge's The Dean's Watch - a book I read many years ago and can remember nothing about, but will go and look up now.