Day 663: Pastoral

Cover for PastoralAndré Alexis states that his intention for this novel was to write a modern pastoral. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s not surprising, for pastoral literature hasn’t been popular for hundreds of years. A pastoral is a work about life in the country, sometimes comparing it to life in the city, showing the pleasures of a simpler existence.

Alexis tells us explicitly, though, that his protagonist, Father Christopher Pennant, expects the rural town of Barrow, Ontario, to be simple but finds it is not. Indeed, events force him through a crisis of faith.

Father Pennant is a little disappointed by his posting to his first parish of Barrow but is determined to do a good job. There he meets a young woman, Liz Denny, who has just discovered her fiancé is sleeping with another woman. Another parishioner with a problem is Father Pennant’s caretaker, Lowther Williams, 62 and certain he will die at 63. He has set Father Pennant a test to determine if he is the proper person to attend to his affairs after his death.

This is an unusual novel and I’m not quite sure what I think of it. Although I enjoyed Father Pennant’s journey, his conclusions about faith are not definitive and we’re not sure where he will end up. I was also interested in whether Liz would decide to marry Rob after all.

The novel takes place in an indefinite time period that could be any time from the 50’s on. If it is in the present, the town seems old-fashioned. A detail that struck me as odd is that at least three characters keep prayer books with them, and these characters are not religious. Now, things could be different in rural Canada, but as far as I know, I have never even seen a prayer book outside church and don’t know anyone who has one. So, I had to wonder whether something was meant by it.

The descriptions of nature are truly gorgeous. Father Pennant spends more and more of his time exploring it and wonders during his struggles if the study of nature may not be enough for anyone. The novel is written with a gentle humor and sense of irony, and the language is truly lyrical at times.

By the way, my copy is an expensively produced paperback, very nicely printed on thick, high-quality paper. Unfortunately, the last 8 or 10 pages are out of order, which was momentarily confusing.

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8 thoughts on “Day 663: Pastoral

  1. Naomi February 25, 2015 / 1:24 pm

    I’m so glad you read this! It’s funny that the last 10 pages were out of order. I just read a book that had a couple of pages that were sort of glued together with zig-zaggedy edges, but everything lines up perfectly, so it doesn’t cause a problem. It was weird, though. I had never seen that before.

    Like you, I didn’t know exactly what to think of it, but I did like it – mostly because it was a bit different, and the writing is good. I’m looking forward to reading his new book, Fifteen Dogs which comes out in April. It sounds even more original.

    By the way, we Canadians always walk around with our prayer books, just in case… 😉

    • whatmeread February 25, 2015 / 3:23 pm

      It looks like the pages got collated incorrectly before binding, but only the last 10 pages. I actually read quite a bit of one page before I realized something was wrong. Then I had to read by looking for the page number. They were completely messed up. It may be a very small press that does some of these things by hand. It certainly was nice paper, though. It was a shame that a press that obviously takes a lot more care with their product than average would make such a mistake. Did you notice that about the prayer books, too? I know these were all supposed to be Catholics, but for heaven’s sake, my brother’s family is Catholic, and he sends his kids to Catholic school, and I’ve never seen a prayer book in his house. I might have seen one in one of my friend’s houses one time, but she lived with her 90-year-old mother.

      • Naomi February 26, 2015 / 8:07 am

        I do remember prayer books being in the story, but I don’t remember thinking much of it, except that it gave me an overall feel for the town and the people in it. I felt like the town was a bit eccentric, but I don’t know why it would have been. It did make for quirkier characters, though, which I like.

      • whatmeread February 26, 2015 / 8:32 am

        It was eccentric, and maybe this was part of its eccentricity. I wasn’t sure if it was some kind of cultural difference I wasn’t aware of, or maybe a religious one.

      • Naomi February 26, 2015 / 8:53 am

        They seemed to keep to themselves, as a town. Like they don’t get out enough to other places.

      • whatmeread February 26, 2015 / 9:03 am

        True. It was a very odd town. Didn’t it feel like they were in the 1950’s? I couldn’t figure out what time the book was set in.

      • Naomi February 26, 2015 / 12:43 pm

        It definitely felt ‘old-fashioned’, but I can’t remember well enough now. Maybe it’s meant to whenever you want it to be.

      • whatmeread February 26, 2015 / 12:44 pm

        I was looking for clues the whole time and didn’t see any, but old-fashioned is a good way to describe it.

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