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Posted October 8, 2010
Fascinating, old-fashioned and completely up-to-date
Charles Williams died in 1945, aged fifty-nine, and I acquired three of his novels recently from a second-hand stall. This is the first one I've read. I found myself thinking of the differences between modern writing and the stories of not-too-long ago, remembering reading Dickens as a young teen and coping fine with long descriptions that would later bore my sons, knowing as I read that "this is a good author" therefore trusting the story to come. Not that Charles Williams writes like Dickens, but his stories do have longer paragraphs and more description than modern fiction. If War in heaven is anything to go by, they also have fascinating plots, up-to-date mysteries-even a Holy Graal-and complex characters with no simple bad guy/good guy denotations.
That last point makes me think they may represent better story-telling than many recent Christian novels I've read, though some of the plot-lines make me wonder if they'd be accepted by a modern Christian publishing house.
In case you can't tell, I really rather enjoyed reading War in Heaven. The author paints the English town and countryside very convincingly, making me think of home. And he writes the dialog delightfully, with half the truths lying unspoken between the lines. There's a murder on page one, and an absolutely perfect first line that declares the phone's ringing unanswered "since there was no-one in the room but the corpse." And even as mystery piles on mystery, that corpse lies waiting to be identified, the cause of death unknown till the story's end.
There's a country pastor, a Duke, a mad archeologist, strange chemists brewing even stranger potions, and innocent book publishers just trying to get on with their lives. There are deaths as well, not just the corpse; crazy chases; magical mists and mysterious strangers. And there are long and fascinating conversations like sitting by the fireside listening in while those with serious opinions opine.
It's a zany mad-cap adventure, told slowly and leisurely. And I find myself wondering if, in a world with fewer authors and fewer books, perhaps it was easier to know "this is a good author" and trust the tale to come. Perhaps we need our fast pace and instant action when we read today because the reader's probably not heard of the author before. If we're not caught straight away in the story's net what reason will we have to invest the time?
Ah well, that's my two-pennorth. And when I get time, I'll invest it in reading and reviewing another of Charles Williams' books.
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