Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: The Time of the Singing

The Time of the Singing
The Time of the Singing by Louise Blaydon

An intense read; a full 4-courses menu rather than a snack.
First of all, a warning: this book features a twenty-nine-year old character having on-page sex with a seventeen-year-old. It’s totally consensual and tastefully done but it’s also graphic and detailed. Readers who are adverse to this kind of thing might want to stop here and avoid this book altogether.

Israfel grew up in a conservative, very religious Catholic family. Unlike his outgoing, athletic brother Michael, Israfel has always been more a scholarly type. After he came out to them, and after all the Christian counseling and all the praying from his family and Israfel himself couldn’t help his homosexuality, the celibacy that comes with priesthood seemed to be the only way Israfel could reconcile his sinful desires with his faith.
Israfel found that he liked being a priest. The rituals gave his life structure, his position lent him status, and he used to wear his cassock like a suit of armor that would at once hide him and keep him safe from the temptations of the world. It worked for him. Actually, it worked so well that Israfel had almost convinced himself that being a priest was his true calling and not his last resort. It worked, that is, until the day Israfel first met Nate Mulligan.

The oldest son of a family as conservative and as Catholic as Israfel’s own, seventeen-year-old Nate nevertheless is Israfels polar opposite in many ways. Nate has been aware that he is gay for five years now, but unlike Raf, Nate came to terms with this fact all on his own without telling anyone. Where Israfel let himself be paralyzed by the Old Testament, Church dogma and the diatribes of St.Paul, Nate chose to only listen to Jesus, who placed love above everything and never spoke a word against homosexuals. Raf’s suit of armor is nothing before Nate’s determination to win his handsome priest over.

The writing style, third person present tense, took a little getting used to, and I’m still not really certain about it. In places, it worked just fine to lend the story more intensity. On other occasions the tense kept me from really going with the flow as it made the writing more noticeable to me than the story itself. In my opinion, it’s mostly a matter of taste, and I generally like past tense better.

Generally, the characterization was equally perfect for both Israfel and Nate.
Some of Nate’s persuasion methods had me cringe inwardly. Then again, keeping in mind how young Nate actually is, he acted in character, and given the prize he was aiming at, I could forgive him the sometimes rather dubious methods he resorted to. Even though he managed to retain the puppy charm of a troubled teenager who’s in love for the very first time, Nate was very, very mature for his age; in fact, he was almost too good to be true. At times, Raf even appeared the younger and more insecure of the pair, especially when it came to Raf’s interactions with his brother Michael. Which made sense, given that at the beginning of the book, Raf had still a long way to go until he arrived where Nate already is: comfortable in his own skin. There’s a vast, and beautifully worked-out difference between Raf the priest and Raf the man that emphasizes Raf’s inner disunity and totally won me over. The path he had to walk towards his personal epiphany was rough, and all the more realistic for that. I totally bought him. I can picture a man in Raf’s place acting like he did, making the choices he made, going through the struggles he did.

What amazed me most about this book, though, was the way it dealt with religious matters.
If you leave the religion out, you still got a well-done, character-driven story about a man coming to terms with his sexuality and finding his place in life with the help of a much younger man who loves him. It’s both characters being devout religious men what makes this book stand out. The religion is an intricate part of the plot - the lovers’s struggles are all the more painful, and all the more realistic, for the fact that a lot of what they stand in opposition to is part of who they are. Also, it would’ve been so easy to paint the Catholic church and her followers as bigots or caricatures like I’ve found it done in so many other books, but no – even their families honestly had their best interests in mind. Yet their families mostly remained caught in the tangles of dogma and yes, religious superstition if there’s such a thing, while Nate and Raf managed to wrestle free of those ties.

With all the philosophics about religion and the mountain of angst in here this sounds like a dark or even dull book. However it was not, there was a lot of humor right from the beginning, and in the end, the romance between Nate and Raf even scraped along just this side of sugary sweet. A beautiful, heartwarming and intense read I can only warmly recommend.

Originally written for www.reviewsbyjessewave.com

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