Thursday, January 22, 2009

All Shall Be...

All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

By Tod Wodicka

I read this novel in a week which is fast for me these days. I picked it up at random in the mystery section of our public library. I don’t know why it was there unless I was misunderstanding a significant chunk of the plot. The title jumped out at me and I had to give it a try. While reading I kept chuckling and reading bits to my husband. I don’t have the book to hand at the moment so you are spared my greatest hits quotations. But you do have my heartfelt recommendation.

And off on a tangent: the title is a quotation from Julian of Norwich. She was an anchoress, a nun walled up in her room next to a church in the late 1300s early 1400s. It was a way of being a hermit, retreating from the world and mortifying the flesh to be closer to God. They were both mocked and revered. Some people went on pilgrimages to speak with them. Beyond that I can’t give you the history of anchoresses. I knew a little bit about Julian because of the song “The Bells of Norwich” by Sydney Carter which was recorded by some friends of mine in the Bay Area (but I can’t find a link so you’ll have to listen to someone else’s version. Thank you, Tim Walters, for this and a slew of other weird connections.) The lyrics piqued my curiosity enough to go on a Google quest and I did some reading about Julian. We don’t know her name before she had her visions. ‘Julian’ comes from the Church of St. Julian in Norwich England where her cell was. Her visions were strikingly original, among other images she saw Jesus as a mother and the entire universe in a hazel nut held in her palm. The novel’s title is her most famous quotation. As you can tell, she tended to the positive. The novel also quotes her statement about how sin was invisible to her, she could only see the pain it caused in the world. Some of her writings make me feel strange and elevated, and make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

The quote is used as the novel’s title but also as a piece of graffiti perpetrated on a desk by the feckless narrator and referred to as a medieval banality. The narrator is a medieval reenactor, he spends most of his adult life in handmade sandals and a ratty tunic. He is quite clear about needing this retreat from the real world in order to function. Having had some personal folk nerd experience and friends who participated in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) dress up activities, I felt right at home with this shmoe. The book also made me want to listen to some Hildegard von Bingen chants. Of course I have a CD somewhere in my collection. Another tangent: for an idealized adventure in SCA land, read the fantasy novel Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle (1986). I think reenactment is always much nerdier than fiction.

I enjoyed reading the book and am finding it difficult to describe the tone. It is about an unsuccessful person being nevertheless fully human. There are family issues and I suppose a swarm of ideas about what makes a good life. I found most of it very funny. Go forth and read it, if that is your fate.

Recently I also finished The Rich Detective by HRF Keating who has written one million mystery novels including the Indian Inspector Ghote series. I liked this one -- British police inspector with the true drive to defeat a murderer -- just fine. I couldn't find a sequel and so picked up a Ghote book on my last library pass. But I can't stomach the dialect, despite all the good blurbs on the back cover, it feels patronizing to me.

Here's hoping the next book I read makes me laugh.

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