An unexpected literary surprise: Susan Howatch's Glittering Images
I have discovered that it is always worthwhile exploring the literary artefacts of one's youth.
I am not talking about the books that one enjoyed reading as a child. These are always worth picking up again. I have discovered so much about my self and the adult world I have created by re-visiting the books I enjoyed in my childhood (Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton's Book of Brownies, I Own the Racecourse, The Shark in Charlie's Window etc. etc....). What I have become interested in is the books I remember lining the shelves of my parents' house and the houses of my aunts and grandparents. Employing this method of enquiry I have, in recent years, discovered the joys of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Tom Sharpe, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Dennis Wheatley and others.
One of the names I remember so vividly seeing on the shelves of the 70s and 80s is Susan Howatch. I never really felt inclined to pick them up - they were not designed to appeal to the aesthetic tastes of young boys. When my friend Maggie Hamilton told me a couple of years ago that she had found a Susan Howatch novel at an Airbnb in Greece and had been utterly enthralled by it I smiled nostalgically and thought nothing more about it. Maggie, however, mentioned it a couple of times more when we met, telling me I would love the ecclesiastic settings. Now, I value Maggie's literary judgement, and I also love any book about the machinations of the Church of England (I was definitely a High Church vicar in a past life), so I put it on my vague "must read someday" list.
Finally, she bought me a copy of Glittering Images for Christmas last year. I have only just gotten around to reading it (it does take me a while to work through my book piles) and I have been so utterly entranced by the book that I can't think of anything else.
Susan Howatch, dear friends, is a literary genius and why didn't anyone ever tell me before?
This book has everything: sex, mysticism, C of E bishops with deep dark secrets - even Evelyn Underhill!
Oh, how you will love this! And it is not just enthralling, utterly engaging, fiction. It is also a call to spiritual arms, of a sort. It even includes a fascinating list of subjects to include if one is keeping a spiritual journal! Also some tips for defeating insomnia - in this case, sneaking out to a bishop's library in one's pyjamas and reading Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.
It has also prompted me to include some things in my life that I have let slip a little: prayer, a more disciplined approach to spiritual life, retreat and the comforting use of external spiritual prompts.
This really is the most heavenly read. I am so glad I have discovered her, and can't wait to continue my Susan Howatch journey.