On Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah
I hesitate to review the first novel in a series without having read its successors, but, as each novel does intend to 'stand on its own' (lacking clear chronological sequence), I think a review is not out of place.
Right off, Michael O'Brien stands head and shoulders above any other writer in the 'acocalyptic fiction' genre, even if, as other reviewers have said, this isn't saying much. He has been rightly compared to Dostoevsky, and some passages of the book are clearly reminiscent of the great Russian master. A few dynamic subplots in the middle of the book (e.g., the rambling confessions of Count Smokrev), which seem on the surface to be entirely out of place, simply make
the novel. The vibrant Catholic orthodoxy which pierces every page, along with the thick layers of 'POD' (pious and overly-devotional) - relics, shrines, saints, scapulars, exorcisms, and Marian devotion to your heart's content - make the novel a delightful diversion for the theologically like-minded, if nothing else. Deep mystical themes interweave throughout the book - it seems, at times, less of a novel and more of a prayer.
Now, the complaints. First, the dialogue in O'Brien's novels, however theologically and spiritually potent, bears little to no resemblance to any actual
dialogue that might occur between two actual
persons. It bears a closer resemblance to, say, a written correspondence, over the course of ten years, between St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, somehow condensed and re-formatted into a hypothetical conversation. Memo to author
: Many people wish they could write like that; fewer people actually write like that; no one talks like that.