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FROM PARIS:
A TASTE FOR IMPRESSIONISM
Paintings from the Clark

Royal Academy

7 July–23 September

Admission £9, concessions available

ROBERT STERLING Clark’s fortune came from the Singer Manufacturing Company – his grandfather Edward Clark was Isaac Singer’s business partner. Robert Clark first served as a soldier and then married a French actress, Francine Clary. Together they collected art, originally Old Masters and American art but after these became too expensive they turned to the Impressionists. As Clark put it, he was happy to collect ‘all kinds of art if it is good of its kind.’ The fruits of this collecting were put on show when, shortly before his death, Clark finished longstanding plans for a museum, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institution. This generous show at the Royal Academy presents some of that collection’s finest nineteenth-century French works.

Monet, Manet, Renoir – the Clark have lent 21 of the collection’s 29 Renoirs – Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, most of the great names from the Salon des Refusés are here. Plus there are landscapes by Corot. And in honour of Clark’s catholic taste there are a few leading lights from the Salon, notably Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose naked children in Oriental scenes are little short of disturbing. Bouguereau also is represented to show why Marcel Proust and Roger Scruton mock him.

But the main attraction is the Impressionists, especially Renoir. The works on show are a good selection of the artist, even when they show how impressive and innovative technique can combine with kitschy taste. A sunset over the Bay of Naples cries out for the Fauves to get hold of it. There are pretty women with well-upholstered embonpoint who pale beside Carmen, one of Lautrec’s tired, nervy, demi-mondaine actresses. But there are also apples in a dish which forcibly bring together reds and greens and blues to make you see those colours more clearly.

There is a self-portrait of the rebellious young artist before he became successful. It’s all dashing technique and attitude and much more interesting than another self-portrait of 25 years later which hangs beside it. And there is that romantic stereotype, the café owner and businessman Alphonse Fournaise who gave food and drink to the young artist in return for his portrait. This is in Renoir’s soft style which so often looks like a bad take-off of Renoir, but here the piercing, slightly watery blue eyes are a focus, which makes the rest of the picture blur into a harmony of reds and pinks and yet give the sense of a sharp man with a weakness for the company of artists.

There are two other good portraits. Both are by Degas, one of the artist himself, the other unnamed but possibly of Verlaine. The latter is unfinished. It shows a man in late middle age, a powerful and sad figure. The colours – black, grey, pink and brown – make a peaceful, contemplative atmosphere which complements the mood of the sitter. The self-portrait, an earlier work, is small, with a similarly limited palette. The artist fixes us with his eyes, much as he did in real life, with great intensity.

Another excellent Degas is Before the Race. This is quintessential Degas at the hippodrome with Japanese influenced cropping of subject matter and bold diagonals. The eye is held by the bright silks of the jockeys. The sensual intensity of their colour is made by the pigment itself and by the juxtaposition of the different colours. A similar sensuality of colour is found with Manet’s late Moss Roses in a Vase. This is another small picture with a limited, matt palette of pink and green and blue greys. There is an easy flow from top to bottom of the canvas. The roses are delicately rendered but the point of the picture is the thick glass of the vase and the water in it. This is Manet in his slightly crude style. The simple shape of the vase is given vitality by the stems and leaves of the roses in the way painted decoration gives life to a ceramic. Manet makes you see the thingness of these very simple objects. Like all the best painting Moss Roses in a Vase is an epiphany.

Epiphanies of a more religious sort are hinted at by Millet and Gauguin. Millet gives us one of his heroic shepherdesses saying the ‘Angelus’ which is a helpful reminder that he didn’t paint just the one picture of rural religion. Gauguin gives us a Breton girl, painted after his first visit to Tahiti, treated as something just as exotic as his half-naked natives and called Young Christian Girl, a striking example of progressive thought looking down on faith through a veneer of anthropological objectivity.

And there are lots of landscapes. The quality is mixed though Monet’s Cliffs at Etretat and Seascape: Storm are worth a close look. But even if it feels like there are too many lanes and trees and factories, the great advantage is that the themes and concerns of the time are made clear. There is a good selection of works by Corot with Italian landscapes which in spirit belong to any time in the previous three hundred years. There is a Sisley of Hampton Court which looks like a Constable. But then there is a change in attitude. Pissarro shows us the Rouen dockyards and the arrival of industrial plant in rural Pontoise. That theme of new industry in the countryside is also found in Caillebotte’s The Seine at Argenteuil. This captures what was just becoming a feature of modern living – the beauty spot changed by development.

Pont de Chatou, just down from Fournaise’s café, brings us back to Renoir. It is the nearest he came to the de-prettification of the landscape. Unlike other Impressionists who tried to capture the passing of time with multiple viewpoints, Renoir used a monumental, classical approach to halt time over a suburban bridge. Whether he or any of the other Impressionists were as successful at capturing time as they were in breaking the academic mould is moot, but this exhibition shows us how they tried. The Clarks bought well.

Owen Higgs

THE OLYMPICS
27 July–12 August
BBC1, et al.

AS A Londoner currently living in voluntary exile, one of the pleasures of a trip back to my home city is looking at how the place has changed since my last visit. On recent visits, this has included watching the Shard slowly climb into the sky on the South Bank. On one occasion, I was travelling through London Bridge station and broke my journey in order to stand at the building site at the bottom of the structure and stare up at it. And I saw: well, virtually nothing. This building, the tallest in Europe, visible from all over London, was virtually invisible when standing at its base.

That serves as a metaphor for the Games of the thirtieth Olympiad which (you might have noticed) has been taking place in London and elsewhere across Great Britain. These were really the first Olympic Games of the digital era: the BBC aimed to broadcast all

5,000 hours of Olympic sport across a variety of digital and internet channels created especially for the Games, and with BBC1 and BBC3 given over almost entirely to the Olympics. To an extent that has never been true before, the best place to watch these Games was from the comfort of your own living room: from there, you could appreciate the breadth, depth and variety of sport on offer in a way that those actually present were unable to do. Like standing at the foot of a massive skyscraper, physical proximity does not necessarily afford the best view of an event as big and as complex as the Olympic Games. There is a delicious irony here: for over two weeks, it was possible to watch the world’s greatest athletes strive for ever greater physical and sporting achievement, without ever having to leave the sofa except to go to the toilet and get the pizza out of the oven. The sporting legacy of these games will undoubtedly be enormous, yet for the time that they were taking place, they made couch potatoes out of a lot of us.

The popularity of the games was proved by the fact that 20 million people in Great Britain alone watched the men’s 100 metres final (even more tuned in for the closing ceremony, suggesting that several million people rather missed the point of the Games). For 9.63 seconds, a third of the population of this country were sat watching the same thing – viewing figures not often seen since the days of Del Boy’s Christmas specials. Those TV channels that were not broadcasting the Olympics more or less gave up trying to compete with those that were, which was good news for fans of Hercules Poirot and Inspector Frost.

The day before the men’s 100 metres final – quickly dubbed ‘super Saturday’ – was Great Britain’s most successful day in the Olympics since 1908. It  included Jessica Ennis’ triumph in the Heptathlon, in front of a capacity crowd in the Olympic Stadium. The news reports spoke of ‘national euphoria’, and for once I got the sense that being in the Stadium might actually have been more exciting than being sat in the armchair.

Having said that, the BBC must be congratulated for its coverage of the Games, which was almost uniformly superb. Where there were problems, such as the coverage cutting away from Andy Murray just as he celebrated winning gold at Wimbledon, these were the fault of the host broadcaster, Olympic Broadcasting Services, and not the BBC itself. Among the Beeb’s enormous team of presenters, commentators and pundits, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan were particularly impressive. The coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies was only slightly spoiled by the inane wittering of Huw Edwards. Which brings us nicely, by way of conclusion, to the event with which the whole show began: the opening ceremony.

A closely – and successfully – guarded secret right up until the event itself, the opening ceremony was devised and directed by the film director Danny Boyle. It was quite a spectacle, which at over three hours long was just as well. It is difficult to know what the international audience will have made of some of it – the portrayal of the Industrial Revolution and the paean to the NHS being prime examples – but at its best it shone with excitement, as summed up by the involvement of three British figures who are indeed instantly recognizable the world over – James Bond, Mr Bean, and Her Majesty the Queen. Let’s take Mr Bean first: he was to be found playing the synthesizer with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle (another world class Brit), as they played Vangelis’ haunting theme tune to the film Chariots of Fire, whilst simultaneously trying to wipe his hand clean after a particularly messy sneeze. It could have been unfunny, but it

wasn’t: find it on the BBC’s website if you didn’t see it first time round.

More substantial, and a real coup for Boyle, was the Queen’s – yes, the real one – cameo role in the opening ceremony. A black cab swept into Buckingham Palace and discharged 007, who swept up the stairs into the royal presence, coughed pointedly when she appeared not to notice him, and raised an impeccable eyebrow as she turned and said, ‘Good evening, Mr Bond.’ He then escorted her into a helicopter, corgis trailing in their wake, for a thrilling ride offering wonderful views of the capital, before she appeared to parachute into the Olympic stadium to take her place for the opening ceremony and declare the Games open. Notwithstanding the fact that the journey began in broad daylight and ended in darkness – perhaps they should have used the zil lanes instead, it would have been quicker - it was an audacious piece of film-making, and the helicopter ride in particular was – like the Games themselves and the TV coverage of them – a wonderful advertisement for my home city, and for the country as a whole.

Richard Mahoney

 

 

 

THINGS I DIDN’T SAY

Ronald Corp – Composer & Conductor/Apsara –

Choir/Edward Batting – Organ Stone Records, £15

RONALD CORP is the Honorary Assistant Priest at St Alban’s Holborn. He is also a prolific and much acclaimed composer and conductor, appointed OBE in the 2012 New Year Honours list for services to music. This rich and varied album shows why. The title is taken from the first and longest work included here, a musical setting of a sequence of poems written by Steve Mainwaring on the death of the latter’s mother with Alzheimer’s disease. An unusual premise for a song cycle

perhaps, but the twenty movements which make up the piece do justice to the beautiful poetry, managing to capture the sadness, poignancy, anger, guilt and desperation which are all aspects of this terrible disease.

Most moving for me are those verses which speak of a son’s love for the simple but profound things a mother does: ‘When I was hateful you taught me forgiveness/When I was empty you would fill my plate/When I was aching you gave me some cushions/ Should I have done the same for you/ Before it was too late?’ Each of these verses is moving, but surely the most powerful is the last in the sequence, which is as poignant a description of what it is to love another person as I have come across: ‘When I was ordinary you made me special/ When I was medium you said I was great/When I was down you built me a staircase/Should I have done the same for you?/But now it’s too late.’

Although not a specifically Christian poem, these verses in particular are reminiscent both of Jesus’ teaching about the last judgement in the last verses of Matthew 25; and also of the Reproaches from Good Friday: ‘O, my people, what have I done to you? And how have I offended you? Answer me.’ And indeed, Corp’s setting of this fine poetry puts me in mind of John Sanders’ version of those Reproaches; and deserves to be as well known in the canon of modern choral music.

 Most of the rest of the

 music on this disc is more specifically Christian, and often takes well- known texts and puts them to striking new music. A good example of this is the setting of Three Medieval Carols, including ‘Myn Lyking’ (‘I Saw a Fair Mayden’), a much recorded Christmas carol which is given a wonderful new musical interpretation here. Not everything here is a new composition, as Corp himself acknowledges in his informative cover notes. For example, ‘We Will Remember Them’, which hauntingly juxtaposes the famous words of Laurence Binyon with the Latin and English translations of Psalm 23, was composed in 1995 and, Corp writes, ‘now seems to have been a precursor of all those slow moving motets and anthems which have become popular with audiences and choirs alike.’ One would have liked to have been present at the All Souls’ Day service at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer in Clerkenwell, where it was performed in 2003.

Among the other highlights of this excellent disc are an exciting setting of Psalm 150 – commissioned for the New London Children’s Choir, which Corp founded in 1991 – and a setting of John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’, which finishes with a triumphant organ flourish: a fitting ending to a superb album which will be of equal value as the latest addition to a collection of Fr Corp’s work, or as an excellent introduction to it.

Peter Westfield

 

THE EUCHARISTIC LITURGIES

Their Evolution and Interpretation Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson
SPCK, 544pp, pbk
978 0281068074, £20

FOLLOWING ON from his study of Christian Initiation (The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, 2007),Maxwell Johnson has joined Paul Bradshaw in text to the history and development of the Eucharist. In the introduction the authors state that this book is designed to be a companion to The Rites of Christian Initiation. Indeed, they state that the introductions to the chapters in this volume consciously follow the introductions in the former. They also build on a similar historical trajectory with chapters dealing variously with the origins of the Eucharist within Jewish and Mediterranean meal practices through the formation of a rite from a meal, through the patristic, medieval, reformation, and modern periods.

The book deals with the rich diversity of Eucharistic rites in the medieval world and Eastern traditions as fully as it is possible to in an introductory text, but many of the descriptions of this book erroneously state that it deals with all medieval rites. In fact, most of the concentration on the different traditions within the medieval world focus on the peculiarities of the Gallican Rite and leaves the exploration of the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites to a comparative table. This is something of a missed opportunity given the mention of the reform of the reform in the final chapter, and the rediscovery of the varieties of Rites within the Extraordinary Form of the Mass which this movement has brought about. It does, however, touch very helpfully on the importance of the Mass within the medieval world, exploring briefly its political and social importance.

In many ways, the layout of this text makes it an excellent example of a standard introductory text. It is excellently footnoted, allowing for ease of access to both primary and secondary sources, and the chapters are sensibly organized thematically and structurally. This being said, the text’s major failure is its creation of a summary section at the end of each chapter. Whilst this has been done in the name of clarity, in effect all it achieves is an abrupt end to chapters that do not really feel as if they have any natural end.

The book is also in desperate need of a conclusion and a fuller introduction: the text as it currently stands runs straight from the bullet point summary at the end of the final chapter into the index. This is a common failure of introductory texts, and ultimately leaves the impression that a series of lectures have been slightly expanded and placed in a book.

These problems aside, The Eucharistic Liturgies is clearly an important and useful guide to the emergence of the Eucharist from the Early Church to today, and is excellent at setting out clearly the lie of the land on themes and issues within the study of the Eucharist, particularly the ideas

of Eucharistic Sacrifice and Real Presence. Indeed, the way in which this text deals so straightforwardly with the proliferation of rites within various Christian denominations in the modern era speaks volumes for the clarity of the prose and argument. This clarity, combined with the fact that this is an introductory text, means that this book is suitable for use by those with theological training or none, lay and ordained alike.

Alexander Robertson

 

ARCHBISHOP FISHER,

1945–1961

Church, State and World
(Ashgate Archbishops of Canterbury Series)
Andrew Chandler and David Hein Ashgate,
256pp, pbk

978 1409412335, £19.99

THE BEST anecdote in this highly readable new biography of Geoffrey Fisher is actually hidden away in a footnote. In his diary, Harold Macmillan described Fisher as an uninspiring conversation partner: ‘I try to talk to [Fisher] about religion, but he seems to be quite uninterested and reverts all the times to politics’.

At the centre of this book is a tension between trying to rescue Fisher from the stereotype of being less a man of God than a headmasterly, autocratic administrator; and making the case that he was a fine Archbishop of Canterbury precisely because he embodied those very qualities at a time when the Church was in need of them. Macmillan may well famously have remarked, when appointing Ramsey as Fisher’s successor, that it was time for some Mary, but one of the themes which emerges from this book is that the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion benefited enormously from the long reign of Martha which had gone before, during the years of Geoffrey Fisher’s archiepiscopate.

The authors – this book is a new collaboration built on the foundations of David Hein’s earlier study of Fisher – identify three ‘quintessential Fisherian themes’: ‘no real freedom outside an ordered structure, no rights apart from duties, and in all things responsibility to God’. Most of Fisher’s public and private life can be profitably viewed through the prism of these themes.

One of the things which the book is good on is the extent to which the Church of England in 1945 needed dragging into the twentieth century. Fisher’s work in overseeing the establishment of the Church Commissioners and in reforming Canon law, whilst hardly the stuff of which hagiographies are made, did a lot to set the Church on a firm financial footing (for a number of decades, anyway); and to provide a degree of equality and financial security for clergy where previously there had been a veritable minefield of differing stipends, housing provision, and so on.

In the political sphere too, Fisher led the Church through turbulent times, and with varying degrees of success; but his achievement lay in ensuring that the voice of the Church of England remained an important one in the corridors of power and, to a lesser extent, in society at large. As Archbishop, Fisher travelled more widely than any of his predecessors (his commitment to international travel mirroring that of the young new Queen), and he was heavily involved in granting autonomous provincial status to far-flung corners of the Anglican Church, thus building up the Anglican Communion into something like that which we’d recognize today (for both good and ill).

Fisher also invested a lot of time and effort in ecumenical work, despite initially being somewhat overshadowed in this field by his predecessor Temple and his erstwhile rival Bell of Chichester. He was, of course, the first Archbishop of Canterbury to visit the Vatican since Archbishop Arundel in 1397, and the case is made here that this paved the way for much of the ecumenical progress that began with Vatican II and continued with the ARCIC documents.

There is an irony here, in that much of that for which Fisher worked from his position as a hearty middle-stumper sort of Anglican has since been washed away by new financial pressures; by the rising tide of liberalism on the one hand and strident fundamentalism on the other; and by the continuing decline of the stature of the Church of England within the English nation and psyche. In their conclusion, the authors quote F.C. Synge, who described Fisher as ‘a very English Anglican, full of common sense and wisdom and kindness and prudence and shrewdness’. It is precisely this sort of Anglicanism which is dying out as voices get shriller and dogmatic positions become more entrenched.

Having sought throughout to present Fisher in a positive light, the assessment of him with which this biography ends is strangely downbeat, concluding that Fisher’s contribution was ‘both notable and usefully complementary’ to other, greater lights such as Eric Mascall and C.S. Lewis, who shone during Fisher’s years at Lambeth.

Archbishop Fisher is excellently footnoted, but relies almost entirely (with a few important exceptions) on other secondary material for its evidence. This is of particular concern as the door-stop biography of Fisher by Edward Carpenter is itself un-footnoted. Similarly, the long section of original documents which makes up the second half of this book is a useful resource, but the majority of the documents included in it have been published before. I note this not to criticize, but to make clear what type of book this is.

It is immensely readable and should make Fisher’s important life and legacy accessible to a wider audience than Carpenter’s book ever will in the modern era. If the books which follow it in Ashgate’s Archbishops of Canterbury Series are as skilfully composed as this, then the series will ultimately prove to be of great value to scholars and a more general readership alike.

Ian McCormack

Further books in Ashgate’s ‘Archbishops of Canterbury Series’ will be reviewed in forthcoming editions of New Directions. Ed.

 

MYSTICS IN THE MAKING

Lay Women in today’s Church

Carolyn Humphreys
Gracewing, 220pp, pbk
978-0852447802, £9.99

THE TITLE of this book is an incredibly exciting and open statement. It is the visioning of the place of women in the Church, a visioning which is inclusive and imaginative. The ideas expressed on the back are in keeping with that creative vision ‘the necessity of daily prayer, ongoing spiritual development and loving service’.

The book starts off slowly in this aesthetic way by using the example of Thérèse of Lisieux. The language used is poetic and does encompass the idea of mysticism. The text turns early on to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is cited as a great example to women of faith. However, there are theological problems with identifying Mary as one who teaches us about serving ‘in little ways that go unnoticed at home, work and in other situations’. Mary is the Theotokos and her action, though full of grace and humility, is certainly noticed. There is a more positive use of Mary later on, as a source of inspiration and hope, and a model for Christian living. Even though there is some reference to saying ‘yes’ to God, there is still no mention of vocation or how Mary can really teach us what it is to be so close to Christ and learn in the most real way how to follow him. The book is correct in emphasizing the importance of Mary but not in its definition of her which is, bluntly, as ‘a wife and a mother’.

Daily prayer is central to the themes within this book. The focus is generally on home life and a life centred around domesticity. There is a rare mention of opportunities outside the home which gives a real glimpse of the power of prayer, where its fruits are ‘the love we bring to our families and work place, to our parish and social activities’. Again, later in the book, when the writer is giving life examples of Christian living, there is only one mention of a woman who works in a parochial setting, outside the home.

Mysticism is how to ‘be’ in God’s love; ‘patient, open and receptive’. It is not possible to reconcile this with a theological view of mysticism which aligns with prophecy, therefore something which should be acted upon. It is difficult to reconcile these passive things – being patient and receptive – with lay women in today’s Church; women who are (or should be) active, missional, preaching and teaching, and using mysticism they possess to inform and interact with the Church.

In one section there is the bold statement, ‘Authentic women know they are uniquely loved by God and love him in return’. Sadly, authentic or not, a lot of women today struggle – because of a lack of this traditional family, they struggle with self-image and confidence, they struggle as single mothers and they struggle to find that love in a world which can be dark. It is almost impossible to marry that picture of womanhood with one which is wrapped up in a traditional family and confident in any manifestation of love. Traditional values, home making, cooking, cleaning, domesticity are not negative but neither should they be the only things that are thought of as being connected with womanhood and with the role of lay women.

There are some real positives in this book. Chapter 8, ‘When the cupboard is bare’, is an incredibly sensitive exploration of suffering and loss coupled with how to cope spiritually. The book does a great amount to promote traditional family values and really endorses limiting the use of television, computer and internet access in the lives of children today. The book also talks about family being a child’s first church. There are some touching and really positive endorsements of family life. However, the text insists on returning to the same theme. Thus, it is very difficult to see this book as relevant, accessible or positive for those who live the religious life, those who are single and those without a traditional, nuclear family. Sadly the book’s recurring theme makes it not quite the visionary picture it first appears. While it is true that ‘tying the shoes of a toddler is just as important as feeding the stranger’ and that ‘the Lord dwells among the pots and pans’, it is not a visionary picture of lay women to see them confined to these tasks alone.

Perhaps it is offensive to be so dismissive of this picture of womanhood; but if the Church really believes in the vocation of all the baptized then while it might be for some to find their vocation in home making, it will not be the vocation of all lay women. In a book which claims to be about ‘Lay women in today’s Church’ there is not enough here about how women are interacting and engaging with the Church, the body of Christ. Chapter 5 reads like an instruction manual for how a woman should run a Christian kitchen and household. This raises the question how can this picture of domestic endeavour be a picture of a lay woman who is engaged with mission or evangelism or discipleship in the life of the Church? Mysticism has to be in a comparative role to prophecy, and both these things are there to be acted upon, to be a platform from which to engage, and to be springboards to pioneer futures for lay women and all the people of God.

Clare Rabjohns

 

THE PAUL OF SURPRISES

His Vision of Christian Life

Geoffrey Turner
DLT, 176pp, pbk
978 0232528923, £14.99

I DO love St Paul. He is so passionate about things. He cares passionately about God, about Christ, about his new churches, about the Jews. He is driven by his amazement at God’s love for him, and the whole incredible salvation story of Christ. He travels widely, walking hundreds of miles around the Eastern Mediterranean to tell people about Christ.

He is also one of the best theologians the Church has ever had. A volume of his letters is really quite slim, yet 2,000 years later we are still writing and reading large books about him as we try to unpack the significance of all that he said. It is not always easy and his interpreters do not always do him good service. Paul is struggling to express new theological concepts in words that have never been used for theology before. He is a Hebrew writing in Greek for an audience of mixed Jewish and Greek parentage and this sometimes makes for confusion. He is also having to work out his theology on the hoof, or in prison. The wonder is he does it so well.

Geoffrey Turner’s new book on Paul is a model of what such a book should be. Turner writes with great clarity; he deals with the different aspects of Paul’s thought: humility, faithfulness, love, hope, holiness and so on. Turner is a Roman Catholic and writing from that standpoint makes Paul much easier for us to understand as Turner is free of the rather burdensome weight of the Reformation controversies concerning justification. Turner makes Paul attractive and shows how his teaching offers people an attractive and liberating  Gospel which brings Christ into every aspect of daily life, but in a life- enhancing way. Read it and discover for yourselves what a lovely teacher St Paul was.

Nicolas Stebbing CR

 

THE HOLY INNOCENTS

Clive Clapson

CreateSpace, 328pp, pbk
978 1477461327, £7.74

THE HOLY INNOCENTS, Fr Clapson’s first novel, evidences no shortage of imagination or enthusiasm, nor does it lack an impressive grasp of AngloCatholic social history. It is the story

of Fr Ambrose de Montford Smith, a charismatic and sincere if eccentric clergyman, who for his staunch Catholicism is, following the death of his sister Agatha, ousted from the progressive Diocese of East Sandwich and finds himself exercising an itinerant ministry from his Ford Fiesta, Speireag’. The stock characters of contemporary Anglicanism are readily recognizable, from the oleaginous Archdeacon to the achingly right-on clergywoman who belongs to SWIM (Supporting Women in Ministry), and asserts that ‘we women have a special gift for ministry. No man can nurture like a woman can. The Anglican view of priesthood has completely changed. In fact, our view of many things has changed’. De Montford Smith soon gathers around him an unlikely congregation of bruisers, prostitutes, Nigerian café-owners and transsexuals. Together they encounter rape, murder and the lesbian relationship between a female bishop and another bishop’s wife. As perhaps befits such strong subject matter, The Holy Innocents is written in an uncompromising and robust idiom: Clapson does not shy away from bad language and obscenity. Amidst this whirlwind De Montford Smith remains calm, if often confused: he is a likeable and holy character, and through him Clapson dispenses some sound and sensitive pastoral teaching. He is uncompromising in his belief that traditional Catholic faith and practice will best save the souls of those with whom he has to do. The humour is someti mes laboured, and, as a first novel, The Holy Innocents suffers occasionally from narrative looseness and ill-discipline. However, when reading it one is certainly keen to press on through the story. Clapson combines an amusing tirade against contemporary liberal ecclesiastical mores with the charming tale of a cleric in the mould of the slum-priests of yore. This reviewer awaits with interest his further authorial output.

Richard Norman ND

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