15 August, 2009

'Nother Early Review

Blest Atheist
by
Elizabeth Mahlou

Difficult review to start writing. I wanted to like this book, for a couple of reasons: One, it was a freebie, an Early Reviewers copy through Librarything, and when i'm given something my tendency & desire is to like it; two, i like the theme, an atheist who ends up forced to accept God's existence and presence in the world. Trouble is, i found it hard to like it, though it has very definitely got good points.

One of my problems, to be perfectly fair, was of my own making. It has taken me several months ~ at least four ~ to finish the book, and that is because i lost it twice: “Tidied” and put away, i had no idea where to find it, and nor did anyone else apparently. That makes it a bit more difficult to keep focussed on a book, its characters, its themes. I am fairly confident, however, in mine ability to hold books in my mind for lengths of time exceeding that which i took here; Crime and Punishment, for example, i held as a whole, though it is much bigger and more complex, for the stretch it took me to complete it.

A second problem i found was a lack of focus in Mahlou: She uses one story in the first part, that of a Siberian boy she takes under her wing to bring to America for healing, as a framework for the whole of her life up until she left atheism, but it is, in some ways, an unfortunate choice, as too much has to be told outside the frame, and the effort to re├źnter it is rather more than i could easily manage. I felt as though i was being pulled and pushed to fit her narrative desire, and being bullied is almost never a good position to be a reader in. It was almost as though, once she had decided to use Shura's story, she was unwilling to let it go, even when it was not helping the narrative, hindered it, even. Admittedly, it was a good story for her purposes, in that is consists of a whole lot of coincidences, which Mahlou uses to imply the existence of God ~ often through a sly sarcasm which i found a little jarring. I have to confess, until the end of the first part, which is easily the majority of the book, i was completely unconvinced about Mahlou's conviction that God exists, as her proofs really seemed to be just the series of coincidences i already mentioned.

The second part is much more convincing and, to be completely honest, far more interesting; it's hard to see, really, why she gave it comparatively so little space in the book. In this section, Mahlou has a total, ongoing, and intimate experience of the presence of a personal God. This is the heart of the book; this is what is compelling about her story; this is what ought to have been the majority of the book, perhaps with her previous lifestory abbreviated to set the scene. All in all, then, i'm afraid that i found this an unsatisfying book.

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