Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The (Church's) West Wing

Just as I was about to sit down and write a review of Susan Howatch's new novel (unfortunately titled "The Heartbreaker"), someone beat me to it, and did a fine job as well.

I'll admit that in my love of Howatch novels there is a degree of "West Wing" syndrome. By this I mean that in the same way people fantasize that Martin Sheen's character on that show actually was president, so do I fantasize that there actually were ministers as articulate and competent as the ones Howatch creates. But though the world and the church usually can't live up to their fictional projections (nor should be expected to), that doesn't mean they're not rife with insight.

Susan Howatch, who I've mentioned before and will I'm sure mention again, is a British lawyer who made a fortune as a novelist. Yet in struggling with the unexpected emptiness of her financial success, she became a Christian, and then (very fortunately) kept writing. The novels that hooked me me initially were her Starbridge Series, which are set in England over the span of the 20th century. As you may have noticed in that link, you can get started on the first one (used) for literally one penny. I assure you it will be a penny well spent. In fact, it's on me. I'll pay you back next time I see you.

If you'd prefer something more recent however, go ahead and jump right into her later books (The Wonder Worker, The High Flyer, or The Heartbreaker) which are are set in the 90's and center around a healing ministry in the heart of London. It was from these novels that I first learned (among other things) that ordering "A tankard of the widow" at a restaurant meant you wanted a bottle of this... information which I hope one day to be able to put to use.

Please, don't let the publisher's goofy titles and blandly designed book jackets fool you. Her theological sophistication and insight into human experience are unmatched. In fact, the Starbridge series may be one of the better histories of twentieth century theology on offer: Each theological position is embodied in a character, with the consequences of doctrinal missteps laid bare.

And they're also really fun to read.