Before I picked up this book in the library, I’d never heard of Michael Arditti, but I found this story fascinating. Following various members of the Granville family, it explores the difficulties that people feel when trying to reconcile their faith and the modern world – or perhaps, more accurately, how faith can still provide a necessary haven of peace and purpose in a world that can otherwise seem heartbreakingly cruel.
Edwin Granville is a bishop who no longer believes in God, but who does believe in the vital social role of the rituals and community of the church. His wife, Marta, is a secular Jewish anthropologist who sees moral perfection in the African tribe she has spent her career studying. Their son, Clement, is a liberal Christian who has managed to reconcile his faith with his homosexuality; his boyfriend, Mike, is resolutely secular. Susanna, Clement’s sister, is perhaps the character who undergoes the most transformation throughout the story, finding comfort and peace within the Orthodox Judaism from which her mother had distanced herself. And there is a rich cast of supporting characters who expand and enrich the story.
I’m not religious, but that didn’t stop me empathising with and enjoying Arditti’s story. It resonated with me because, at root, it’s a story about the changing dynamics of family life, about trying to find meaning in the world and about the struggle to find a balance between worldly success and inner peace. I imagine some readers might feel alienated by the fact that so much of this book revolves around privileged people having heated philosophical discussions – but, to me, it was a book that had real heart and characters who are complex and believable: sympathetic and selfish by turns. I can best describe it by saying that it felt like a cross between A.S. Byatt and Alan Hollinghurst.
Since reading it, I have to confess that I’ve picked up other books by Arditti and found that they seem to be populated by very much the same kind of characters and situations – so perhaps I enjoyed this so much simply because it happened to be the first of his books I’d read. If I had come to it after reading others, perhaps I would shrug it off as ‘same old, same old’. But am I doing him an injustice? Has anyone else read any of his books?