The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes

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The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A dizzying trip across centuries, what seems disjointed soon blends to form a powerful climax, reaching across the years to provide lovingly crafted characters with compelling stories
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2016
Publisher: John Murray
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781473636507

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In 1999, a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can't shake the sense he's been chosen for something.

In 1888, five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master.

In 1777, an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.

And in 1666, poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later.

But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end?

Under the name Michael Colgan, the author has been an actor for many years - with an impressive CV, it's clear he's talented - and he's decided to transfer those skills to writing, in this, his debut novel.

I'll be completely honest - you may well spend, as I did, a large part of this book wondering where on earth things are going. Plots are threaded intricately, but at times I worried if they would ever be pulled together. My worries were unfounded though, as the different timelines are pulled together in startling fashion - the last few chapters maintain the compellingly complicated time leaps, but by the time you're a few chapters into the book you become completely used to them - different characters' journeys blending and interacting despite being seperated by centuries.

The author's history as an actor also comes in handy - whilst some characters are only visited briefly, the authors brings them to vivid life in just a few brushstrokes. It makes the leaps in time easier to deal with - knowing that a compelling and familiar character will be waiting for you when you make the leap is both comforting and inviting, plus the themes and time periods explored are all utterly fascinating - even 1999, which most of us remember very well indeed, feels both familiar and alien - the fears about the millenium bug that today seem almost forgotten but then were a subject of mass panic. I'm a huge fan of William Blake, and love Paradise Lost - so I was excited to turn the page and see where the story led.

I will advise that this won't be for everyone - there is a touch of David Mitchell in the writing (no bad thing in my opinion), but I appreciate the style and the different time periods may put some people off. For those who persevere though - this is a stylish and exciting novel with an intimate tale that spans centuries, and a captivating cast who help navigate the readers through a vivid range of settings. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading - give The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell a go. Dazzling, Mitchell manages, like Michael Hughes, to make the epic intimate.

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