Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock


The Hawk and the Dove Series #4 
Lion Fiction, Sept 27th 2015, 256 Pages 
(First Published 2011, Crossway Books) 

The first of three sequels to the celebrated The Hawk and the Dove trilogy takes place one year after the end of the third book, in the early fourteenth century. A peaceful monastery is enjoying its new abbot, who is taking the place of Father Peregrine, when an old enemy arrives seeking refuge. Reluctantly taking in Prior William, the upended community must address old fears and bitterness while warily seeking reconciliation. But can they really trust Prior William?

In her fourth book in the series, Penelope Wilcock wrestles with the difficulties of forgiveness and the cautions of building trust. Taking the form of journal entries, her story will delight the imaginations of readers captivated by a time and place far distant from our current world. Her timeless themes, however, will challenge our prejudices today as we, along with her characters, are forced to ask ourselves, “What is the hardest thing to do?”
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It's been over two years since I finished the original Hawk and Dove Trilogy, three short books set in and around a Monastery in 14th century Yorkshire, exploring the lives of its inhabitants, and the spiritual resonances of their choices, actions, and behaviour. This picks up a couple of years after the Trilogy ended, with the death of the much loved Abbot Columba. A new Abbot had been appointed, formerly one of the brothers of the Abbey named John, who had to trek halfway across England to St Alcuin's from Cambridge.

The brothers were going about their lives, preparing for his arrival when they hear the news that a nearby Augustinian Monastery (an order based largely in England named after Augustine of Canterbury) has been burned to the ground, and all its members reportedly killed. The Abbot was William de Bulmer, a man noted for his arrogance and an almost pharisaical obsession with order and rules. Those who had read the former series may remember that the second book involved a confrontation between the two men, in which William showed contempt for the disabled Abbot Columba. It is a slight that many of the brothers of St Alcuin's had not forgotten or forgiven.
So when William de Bulmer arrives on their doorstep, shortly after their new Abbot, tensions are running high.

This is the central conflict of the story and the reason for the title 'The Hardest Thing to Do'- reaching out and accepting a man deservedly despised and hated. However, it also applies to the resentment, hardships and inner demons which all the monks have to is wrestling with. Could Brother Thomas, the close friend, and confidante of Abbot Columba overcome his hatred and bitterness to accept a man in need, instead of stirring up dissent amongst his brothers?
What of William be Bulmer himself? Would his presence bring indelible divisions to St Alcuin's, and what made him so closed to love and compassion for his fellow men. Could he overcome his pride and arrogance to embrace the refuge he so urgently needed?

I did not agree with everything in the book or all the interpretations of scripture that were presented, but this book proved to be a moving and thought- provoking study of moral and spiritual matters, in which many of the characters were forced to examine themselves and change their own lives. Through ordinary men and women, they are relatable to our own lives.
This book and the series it is part of have been described as a modern-day parable, which won't be according to everyone's taste, but I rather liked this method and style. The author has also provided a useful Glossary and chart of the canonical Hours which were observed in Medieval Monasteries.

I don't think everything in it was Historically accurate, a lot of the language was too modern, but the details about life in a Monastery, and how each of the brothers had a role and purpose were well written. I understand the next one deals with some very hard and controversial issues, but I do look forward to reading the next few books.

I requested a copy of this book from the Publisher, Lion Fiction. I was not required to write a positive review, and I did not receive any financial compensation. All opinions expressed are my own.

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