Review by Booklist Review
Mantel is an intelligent and marvelously entertaining writer. Originally published in 1989 in England, this delightful novel re-creates the atmosphere of a Roman Catholic rectory in 1956, several years before Vatican II will revolutionize the church's culture. The setting is an English village parish steeped in medieval ways, such as superstitious prayers that sound like spells, or passionate devotion to statuary that borders on idolatry. When the local bishop visits, he directs the pastor, Fr. Angwin, to modernize, to be rid of all the "frills and baubles." But change never comes easily. Mantel's cast includes Agnes Dempsey, a nosy and thoroughly amusing parish housekeeper; Philomena, a young nun who finds herself flustered by her students as they prepare for First Holy Communion; and also Fludd, a mysterious curate who arrives just as change begins. Is Fludd a godsend? Mantel offers transformation in many forms: one character takes a lover, others find and lose their faith, and one even spontaneously combusts. Mantel's slim novel sheds theological insight even as it demonstrates how thinking has changed over time. --James Klise
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Originally published in 1989 in the U.K., Mantel's slim, intense novel displays the author's formidable gift for illuminating the darker side of the human heart, offering metaphoric and literal incarnations of the powerful central images of Catholicism. Her circa-1956 setting of Fetherhoughton, a provincial English village surrounded on three sides by gloomy moors, is stark and dreary, a dead end where unwanted people are unceremoniously dumped. Such is the case of Sister Philomena, a sturdy farm girl-turned-nun banished from an Irish convent because her sister Kathleen breaks convent rules. It becomes apparent that Philomena will not fit in anywhere, as she is a strange mix of innocence and knowledge, a sage romantic. Philomena finds an unlikely confidant in Father Angwin, the parish priest, who has lost his faith, thinks the town tobacconist is the devil and fears the threat of a youthful replacement for his post. When a rain-soaked man named Fludd arrives on a stormy night, Angwin assumes it is the newly appointed curate, but even so, the two become close friends and, in time, Angwin sheds his bitterness and paranoia to become a more compassionate, wiser person. Fludd sweeps the nosy housekeeper, Agnes, off her feet with his gentlemanly manners and cool confidence, but Philomena is also strangely attracted to the devilish Fludd, who magically transforms everyone he meets. The monstrous Mother Perpetua, headmistress of the St. Thomas Aquinas School, is the lone exception, and she ends up being a key player in the rural face-off between good and evil. Hawthornden Prize-winner Mantel (The Giant, O'Brien) uses her knack for dry wit and lovely, scene-setting detail to liven up crisp, utilitarian prose, revealing, as her characters do, the ever-surprising divine in the mundane. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A mysterious curate arrives one dark and stormy night to succor the populace--in this dryly comic tale by British novelist Mantel (The Giant, O'Brien, 1998, etc.). First published in England in 1989, Fludd takes place in Fetherhoughton, a sorry post-industrial town on the moors where petty animosities and pervasive ill-humor hold sway. Father Angwin, the priest, is a decent man, though by 1956 he's long since given up believing in God and goes through the motions of his office only in hopes that his congregation may still benefit. His bishop's request that all the statues of saints be removed from Angwin's church results in a crisis, which the priest ineffectively resolves by burying the figures. He then settles deeper into his despair, but a knock on his door, which opens to reveal the sodden and peculiar figure of Fludd, also reveals a way to his redemption. Fludd has a strange effect on everyone he meets: Angwin, who immediately confesses the whole of his disbelief, feels a load lifted, which enables him to act decisively; the priest's spinster housekeeper, Agnes Dempsey, finds a warmth spreading through her that makes her hopeful once again; and when Fludd reads the palm of the town convent's youngest member, Irish Sister Philomena, she awakens to new possibilities in life--possibilities that she'd never dared dream of. But along with his quiet miracles, Fludd brings a hefty measure of unease, since no one can remember exactly what he looks like when he's not around, and he seems to eat and drink without actually chewing or swallowing. At the close, he performs the one act that will set them all free, and then, like the true conjurer he is, has a final trick up his sleeve just for Sister Philomena. Witty, offbeat, insightful regarding the trials of Catholicism without bogging down in dogma: a lightly weighted but charming vision of alchemy's noblest endeavors. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.