instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A quality of redemption

After I finished reading Anne Rice's new novel, Angel Time, my wife asked me, "Is it good?"

"I'm not sure," I answered.

Which isn't a good sign.

The novel tells the story of the redemption of an assassin through the direct intercession of an angel [1]. That in itself poses a problem for me. I'm all for the redemption of assassins through direct angelic intercession, so much so that I can't judge whether Rice's story is believable within the context of spiritual realism or angelic fantasy or whatever name you want to give the genre [2].

A further problem is that the assassin's redemption involves the resolution of a crisis in Thirteenth Century England. In angel time, this is no big deal, but the effect on the novel is that of two very different stories with only a tenuous link between them.

Moreover, I found the primary story -- of the contemporary assassin-turned-angel's assistant -- much more interesting than the secondary, medieval story. The latter's richly drawn characters (if you've read any Anne Rice novels, you know how sensuous her descriptions of people and places are) are let down by a too-thin plot.

On the other hand: lots of Dominicans! [3]

I don't know if the intent is to write more books about this character -- I noticed hooks for future stories, though no loose threads -- but if some of this novel's themes are to be revisited in the future, that might explain the brevity with which they are dealt. I'd read a sequel, if one appears, because I'm interested in where Anne Rice's imagination might take her reformed assassin. But as it stands Angel Time was too disjointed, with parts of it too brief, for me to find it an altogether satisfying read. [4]

1. The character's name is Toby. He goes on a trip with an angel. I almost never notice stuff like that.

2. One name not to give the genre is didactic fiction. Rice writes from her Catholic faith, but she paints a picture that is less sacramental and less Trinitarian than a full-throated "Catholic novel" would have.

3. Which is great, except then I start noticing little things, like how a close student of St. Thomas acts in a manner completely contrary to the Angelic Doctor's teaching, or how a friar is sometimes called a monk, or how a Dominican calls himself a "Friar Minor," or how (in the 13th Century) a lay brother from abroad is afforded the same respect in disputation as the local prior.

4. Oh, and for the record, mine was a free review copy.