Friday, December 18, 2009
"A writer can’t know everything about what she writes. It’s impossible. You reach deep down and you bring up what feels absolutely authentic to you as you move along with the book but you don’t know everything about it. You can’t." Anne Rice
Until I picked up Angel Time, I had never read the work of Anne Rice. Vampire stories don't interest me, but angels do - and that's exactly what drew me to Ms. Rice's latest novel. Long before there was The Twilight Saga and HBO's "True Blood," Anne Rice was cranking out The Vampire Chronicles, a whole series of mega-blockbusters. But when Ms. Rice gave atheism the heave-ho and personally reconnected with God and her Catholic faith after a 38-year hiatus, her writing goals suddenly changed and so did her stories. How fortunate for readers with tastes like mine! There have been the Christ the Lord books (Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana), fictionalized retellings of the life of Jesus. Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, a memoir about her life experiences growing up Catholic, becoming an atheist and her return to the Church. With Angel Time, Rice has written a suspenseful page-turner, a novel about a deeply wounded, contemporary Catholic who is lapsed, flawed and conflicted . . . and utterly fascinating.
Toby O'Dare (Jesuit-educated, age 28) has fled the Church and become a hired assassin. A loner with identity issues, Toby is bitter and rebellious toward a God who has permitted tragic losses to befall his fate. The horrifying backstory and lengthy flashback Rice paints about the protagonist's past is convincing and chilling - and makes the righteousness of Toby's anger at God seem completely justifiable. However, while Toby has outwardly turned his back on God and the Church, Catholicism continues to prey on his psyche - especially in his fondness for frequenting missions and chapels.
Toby says (page 9): "Maybe when you’re brought up Catholic, you hold to rituals all your life. You live in a theater of the mind because you can’t get out of it. You’re gripped all your life by a span of two thousand years because you grew up being conscious of belonging to that span . . . Never ever did I look at the nighttime stars or the sands of a beach without thinking of God’s promises to Abraham about progeny, and no matter what else I did or didn’t believe, Abraham was the father of the tribe to which I still belonged through no fault or virtue of my own."
When Toby utters a sarcastic prayer to God, an angel--Malchiah, a member of the Seraphim--suddenly appears to him in the midst of his performing a hit/murder. Malchiah offers Toby a chance to change his life and work for God rather than the people who hire Toby to kill for a living. “Redemption is something one has to ask for,” Malchiah tells him. The whole scene leading up to this supernatural encounter is masterfully-written and completely riveting that I wanted to stay in the present and have Toby find his redemption in the here and now. However, Rice unpredictably transports the reader back in time to the 13th Century (Norwich, England) where Toby, as a priest, undertakes a Divine assignment to aid a Jewish family facing mob violence.
Angel Time is the first in a proposed set of three novels written as part of the "Songs of the Seraphim" series. When asked in a recent interview to explain her motivation for writing novels about angels, Rice said, "It was time for me to try and make good guys as compelling as vampires...I was tired that the devil is always portrayed as the interesting one." With that as her aim, Angel Time more than succeeds.
Angel Time (The Songs of the Seraphim, Book One) by Anne Rice
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400043538, 288pp.)
Publication Date: October 27, 2009
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