I rate this book a GOOD ✭✭✭


Synopsis by NetGalley:

England, the 7th century. Petty Anglo-Saxon kingdoms make war upon one another and their Celtic neighbors. Christianity is a new force in the land, one whose hold remains tenuous at best. Power shifts back and forth uneasily between two forms of the new faith: a mystical Celtic Catholicism and a newer, more disciplined form of Catholicism emanating from Rome. Pagan rites as yet survive in the surrounding hills and mountains. Plague sweeps across the countryside unpredictably, its path marked by death and destruction.

In keeping with a practice common at the time, an Anglo-Saxon warrior donates his youngest child to the monastery of Redestone, in effect sentencing the boy to spend the rest of his life as a monk. This gift-child, called an oblate, will grow up in the abbey knowing little of his family or the expectations his natural father will someday place upon him, his existence haunted by vague memories of a former life and the questions those memories provoke.

Who is his father, the distant chieftain who sired him or the bishop he prays for daily? And to which father, natural or spiritual, will he owe allegiance when, at length, he is called upon to ally himself with one and destroy the other? These are the dilemmas the child faces. The answers will emerge from the years he spends in spiritual apprenticeship to a hermit who lives on the nearby mountain of Modra nect – and his choices will echo across a lifetime.


My Review:

A written confession of a monk of his sin; a child’s view of living his life in a monastery, all those around him, and his surroundings as far as he could see. His religious instruction, his questioning, his learned understanding of human behaviour clearly shows Peak is a master of introspection, but to me the novel felt disjointed in time and flow.

What I found GREAT about the book?

I loved the idea of an adult recounting his childhood with the understand that as he grew his memories could change. There is a real tenderness in which Peak talks about the relationships within the Redestone.

I found this to be a wonderful philosophical book that is an instruction into deconstructing held beliefs, examining them and reconstructing them with a greater understanding, and this is the part of the book that was a real pleasure to read. In this William Peak excites me in his writing.

The opening chapter gives us the start in mime, simple pleasures of making a snowman with a small boy to indicate that the monks do not speak but use sign language, so using sign language Peak starts his tale. Brilliant!

There are some lovely lines from a child perspective, simple memories: A childs thinking, with an adult understanding:

‘I thought about the place at table where I sat. I thought about my bed. I thought about the spot along the church wall that on sunny mornings grew warn and rosy in the light.’

Simple pleasures in a childs world.

When Winwæd is instructing the younger oblate Oftfor about heirachy of Fathers in the Abbey, Oftfor asks

“Are there any mothers?”

What a sad line.

Peak shows a deep understanding of the scale of someones compact world – our world can be only what we see, but when we venture further past that distant view, we discover that a picture in our mind is only a picture and the reality can be terrifyingly magnificent. This is conveyed whilst Winwæd is high up on a crag looking down on Redestone. I enjoyed how this book is focussed around one small place as if there was nothing outside of it, even in their imagination.

In a complex way he shows that although the monks appear to blindly follow a man (Bishop Wilfred) who stole Winwæd’s fathers lands and makes demands of them, each monk has their own story and personal secrets. They keep something for themselves, they do things considered wrong by their rules, but is really part of natural curiosity. I also love the way Peak also has a wonderful manner of digging down the deepest level of questioning, forcing the reader to really think about held beliefs, showing all sides of blind faith and no faith.

Instruction for young oblates includes the history of Cumbrogi monks who also felt they were doing God’s will in their heathen ways, and invites thoughts about how religion has been shaped by powerful men and followed blindly because of being taught that there is only one path to God.

I enjoyed how Peak challenges with suggestions how memories can also be shaped and false. As he is writing, Winwaed reminds himself that his memory may not be correct.

The questioning is brutal – What if religion is nonsense?

‘What if suffering is just suffering? What if the one who suffered finds neither nobility nor reason in his pain? What if there is only confusion, hurt, loss? We do not expect a horse to learn from its suffering, a cow….’

There is also offered a solution to the oblate, that God does not exist but you can create a peace within yourself which you can call God eventually, and that is God (I think!).

What was not great for me?

Now I will qualify this part of my review to my Britishness!

The main problem for me was that the language style of this book did not take me back in time. I felt like I was reading about modern day when I really wanted to be transported to the 7th Century. I expect this is because I am in love with historical language!

The overuse of modern words (e.g. Truism, lunacy, explosion, recondite, antiphone), many of which originates back to the 17th Century spoilt the enjoyment for me, bordering on irritation. I admit that this is my personal bugbear!

Then there is the line “You take care of yourself” – which seems spoken in such a modern way that it shouted out – wrong to me!

Throughout the book history is told in such a way to the child oblate who appeared not to entirely understand.
“You haven’t any idea what I’m talking about, have you?” I shook my head’

I shook my head as well, I had to agree, I also found it difficult to follow the lesson. The history feels like it has been superficially added to tell a background to the novel, without weaving it into the story.

I found it a bit hard to follow the timeline of the memories and marry the events being recounted and the ages of the young oblate. At the end of the book I was no nearer understanding what prompted it or when the confession was being written. No matter though the journey was good.

Would I recommend it? – Yes definitely, especially if you are one of those people who like history told in a modern way. Is it worth reading? – Yes without hesitation – I love a good challenge

This is William Peak’s debut novel, and I really look forward to him growing as an author of novels.

Would I recommend it? – Yes definitely, especially if you are one of those people who like history told in a modern way.
Is it worth reading? – Yes without hesitation – I love a good challenge

This is William Peak’s debut novel, and I really look forward to him growing as an author of novels.


Many thanks to the Publisher for an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley for an honest review.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: December 1st 2014 by Secant Publishing
ISBN0990460800 (ISBN13: 9780990460800)