My bookcase is rapidly developing a lot of spaces on the shelves with ‘reserved for’ marked on them as my next choice is yet another book that I can’t currently lay my hands on.  Not because of the spotted book critic’s attentions this time but because I lent it to a friend, pointing out that it was so tatty because it had been read many times by several members of the family and we wanted it back as eventually someone was going to feel like reading it yet again.  That was three years ago.  So Sue, please…

Angels and Men by Catherine Fox is the sort of book I usually wouldn’t bother with as it’s set in a Christian college in a large university town – obviously Durham though it’s not called that – and frankly a story about a heroine damaged by a religious cult, theology students, trainee vicars, potential losses of faith and various other religious dilemmas would generally send me to sleep rather than make me stay up till I’ve finished it.  But this isn’t a book about religion, it’s about students and it’s as warm, as funny and as intense as students usually are.  Mara, the heroine is wonderfully acerbic and prickly, and though, despite herself she’s gradually drawn into the life of the college and to her surprise becomes one of a group of friends, she remains tricky and is sometimes a complete pain in the  neck.  But she’s always interesting, fun to read about and someone you grow to care about a lot.

There’s a superb cast of theology students, the slightly stuffy Rupert with his polished shoes whose father is a bishop and who has decided, against all logic, that Mara would make a good vicar’s wife and his friend Johnny.  Johnny is one of the most unlikely potential vicars you’re ever going to come across, he’s working class in a middle class college, he smokes, he’s rebellious and he’s hot.  There’s a line describing him (done from memory, as of course Sue, I don’t have the book to check the exact wording) – Johnny Whittaker “practically had leg over tattooed on his chest”.  A hot vicar, now that’s not a combination of words that springs readily to my mind.

Religion plays a major part in this book; the characters’ struggles with their faith, their trying to come to terms with what has happened in the past, with the demands that faith puts on them, with the very basic but difficult tenet that unmarried Christians are supposed to be celibate (not surprisingly there’s quite a lot of this) and in less sure hands Angels and Men could have become a “message novel”.  But everything is written with a light touch, Catherine Fox’s writing is warm, engaging, frequently very funny and she’s confident enough not to leave everything sewn up neatly at the end, which may be one of the many reasons that nearly everyone I know who has read this book has reread it again at least once.

Maybe that’s why I still don’t have my copy back…

 

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