Wednesday, July 27, 2016

And Now Good-Bye, by James Hilton: A Review

James Hilton (1900-1954) is best known as the author of Lost Horizon, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but I did not recognize his name when I picked up a hardback with his name and the title, And Now Good-Bye. Published in 1931, two years before he published Lost Horizon and put the name, Shangri-La into the common vernacular, the copy I found was printed in 1932 by William Morrow and Company, Inc. and the pages are brittle and yellowed with age.

As a writer of dark fantasy, this slice-of-life story appealed to me only because the protagonist was one Rev. Howat Freemantle, a clergyman. The opening prologue tells of his heroism when the London train he was a passenger on derailed. He jumped from his passenger car and running to the one that had overturned and on fire, he saved five lives, dragging them from the wreckage even though his hands and arms endured terrible burns.

After that dramatic prologue that includes the story of  his nervous breakdown the resulting recovery and the heroic welcome he received when he returns to his impoverished, middle-class, and fictional village of Browdley, the novel starts detailing the good Reverend's week before the train accident.

I enjoyed the book only because I too am an ordained member of the clergy and I was surprised to read that the travails of the clergy in Great Britain between the two World Wars mirrored mine exactly, almost 90 years later. Unfortunately, the ending left a very bad figurative taste in my mouth. The solution to his problems are not ones that are held in high admiration and we discover that his reasons for his heroic behavior are not so altruistic as first thought. The book then reveals itself to be a tragedy.

Nonetheless, I am glad I took the time to read the novel. I’m well aware the trope of the morally flawed clergyman has been done to death to the point that if I am reading a mystery or other genre novel that contains a member of the clergy, I already know who the bad guy is. However, in Hilton’s day and age, the trope was still fresh and, therefore, adds a more shocking dénouement to the work. Able to put myself in the mind of a reader that would have read the book during the early 1930s, I can appreciate how Hilton constructed the tale. In addition, I always like to read outside my comfort zone. And Now Good-Bye is not a genre novel by any stretch of the imagination, but the benefit of reading a viewpoint from another time and another culture is priceless.

I started keeping track of books that I completed and since August 5, 2010, And Now Good-Bye is book #232 and my fourteenth completed book for 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment