Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch

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Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Second in the Starbridge series, this powerful book is about Jon Darrow, a monk who is called out of monastic life. He gradually discovers his new role in the world, and finds healing from several painful memories.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: July 1996
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd
ISBN: 978-0006496922

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Glamorous Powers is the second in Susan Howatch's superb Starbridge series about clergymen in the Church of England, during the 20th century. It's complete in itself, but best read after Glittering Images.

Jon Darrow is the hero of this book. No longer seen as the wise, mature counsellor through Charles Ashworth's eyes, Jon is the narrator of this book, and an entirely different side of his character emerges.

The story opens with Jon, an Anglican monk, having a vision of a chapel. He believes this is part of a call to leave the monastery and resume work in the world. In order for this to happen, he must persuade the Abbot-General. Unfortunately for Jon, Francis Ingram, the new Abbot-General, is an old rival of his, and they have never seen eye to eye. At first it appears that this is because Francis is a rather dull, upper-class twit who has managed to manipulate his way into the affections of the previous Abbot-General. But as the book progresses it becomes clear that Francis does have a great deal of wisdom, and that he has Jon's best interests at heart. The problem is Jon's own hang-ups, which are cleverly and gradually revealed as the book progresses.

The writing is wonderful, mirroring Jon's own opinion that getting to the root of people's problems is like gradually peeling more and more layers off an onion. Jon's pride and arrogance are clearly shown, in his lack of honesty with several people who he cares for, and particularly in the rather poor relationship he has with his adult children. Yet he doesn't think of himself as overly proud or arrogant, and frequently deceives himself as he plunges into one disaster after another.

It's an excellent book, one I could barely put down despite having read it twice before. I was no longer shocked or surprised by things that I didn't expect the first time I read it, but I was moved to tears afresh by one short passage, and utterly gripped by the time I neared the end. The characters are believable, all the more so as different parts of their personalities emerge, and the writing concise and clear.

It's not a religious book as such, although the perspective is Christian; it's more of a psychological thriller. Highly recommended, whether or not you have any interest in the Church of England.

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