Beyond Reason by Keith Colquhoun

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Beyond Reason by Keith Colquhoun

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Laura Bailey
Reviewed by Laura Bailey
Summary: Beyond Reason is a black comedy which explores religious contentions in a serious way. You could read this book on either or both levels - the humorous or the religious - and get an enjoyable read from both.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Solidus
ISBN: 978-1904529347

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Beyond Reason is a deceptively complex novel - a black comedy about the conflicts within religion. The main focus of the plot, Edward Bunyan, is a radical within the Church of England who is trying to take religion in a new (and rather amusing) direction in order to get the public interested in it again. Bunyan claims to have a direct link with God as well as spiritual powers, such as being able to levitate and read minds, which leave his colleague and old college friend, Reverend Ralph 'Marmy' Marmaduke, unsure about both his friendship with Bunyan and his own religious beliefs.

Marmaduke, the novel's narrator, is a wonderfully cynical man whose wildly variable views of religion colour the twists and turns of the plot. The character's witty cynicism gives humour to the book that makes a character (and subject) that could potentially be difficult to relate to someone who is both interesting and, more importantly, likeable. Marmaduke is someone who you will instantly warm to and who, during the course of the novel, manages to represent almost every possible degree of Christian faith.

The main thing that keeps you reading this book is the many different types of relationship, with each character bringing to the story a new series of religious issues. One of the most appealing relationships is the one between Marmaduke and his atheist wife Florence. This is a heart-warming exploration of the fine nuances and delicate balances that come with married life. We also get a taste for the hierarchical relationships between fellow employees of the church as well as between people of different types of belief, for example, Marmaduke and his churchwarden, Wickens, who practices witchcraft. One criticism of this book, however, is that Marmaduke does mention that he and Florence have children and yet they never make an appearance. I found this disappointing as I think that seeing Marmaduke's relationship with his children first hand would have added more depth to his character.

Colquhoun has obviously done his research, with a number of obscure religious texts and stories being referred to in the novel without ever intruding on the story. The novel leaves the reader with the desire to go and research these events in order to become more involved with the text. In this way, through the medium of comedy, Colquhoun gives a feeling of depth to the idea of religion, which has become something of an unexciting one-dimensional concept to a lot of people.

The ending is somewhat anti-climactic, leaving a lot of questions. The characters seem perfectly set up for a lot more fun and I think that perhaps this novel could have gone to a more exciting place. I for one would have been happy to read on for a hundred or so more pages. There is almost a feeling that the author was not sure where to take the novel, or perhaps got bored, and so killed off a character in order to give a semblance of resolution.

Beyond Reason is a book that could be enjoyed simply as a black comedy or alternatively as a book that genuinely has something to say about religion. I think it is both. I really enjoyed this book, and despite juggling a lot of characters each character, perhaps with the intentional exception of Judith and Suzanne who were purely there for comic effect, felt like a real person. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is either interested in religion or likes to laugh.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Five Deadly Words by Keith Colquhoun.

If you liked Beyond Reason then you may like A Bit of a Scandal by Mary Rose Callaghan, a novel that explores some of the issues surrounding religion while at the same time making sure that 'laughter is never far away.'

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