A Pure Clear Light

A Pure Clear Light

by Madeleine St. John, Madeleine St John

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At once poignant and humorous, this deliciously devised novel lights on the marriage of Flora and Simon Beaufort just at the moment it goes haplessly awry — the moment that Simon succumbs to the temptation of his cool, blond accountant and Flora heeds the cry of her reawakened faith. Ultimately, though, neither of them can escape the revelation that lies

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At once poignant and humorous, this deliciously devised novel lights on the marriage of Flora and Simon Beaufort just at the moment it goes haplessly awry — the moment that Simon succumbs to the temptation of his cool, blond accountant and Flora heeds the cry of her reawakened faith. Ultimately, though, neither of them can escape the revelation that lies beyond excuses and candor, at the heart of a phenomenon called love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I haven't got any imagination, as you perfectly well know," says coolly blonde, 30ish accountant Gillian Selkirk to her married lover, Simon Beaufort. She may be the only one who doesn't in this deceptively calm and studiously ironic study of love sacred and profane. After Simon's wife, Flora, lapsed Catholic and mother of three, leaves their pleasant London home and takes the kids on holiday in France, TV director Simon, to his great surprise, falls in love with Gillian. The siren's song of "pure unadulterated sex" proves irresistible to agnostic Simon, though he is determined not to upset the applecart with Flora. Meanwhile, he sets about casting his next film, looking for an actress as brilliant as the "plain" English ones he knows, but with a more voluptuous body--a French or Italian, he thinks. As Simon is snared by the temptations of film and flesh, Flora, returned from France but still feeling his absence, is drawn to the local Anglican church. By the time Flora's friend Lydia catches Simon and Gillian together at a Bayswater brasserie, the end of their secret affair is almost an anticlimax. What prevails is Flora's austere yet human yearning for God's love, and her determination that the marital relationship must go on in a life she now considers "transitory." Exploring the tension between worldly and religious love as did Graham Greene in The Power and the Glory and Andr Gide in Strait Is the Gate, Booker Prize-nominee St. John does produce "a pure clear light" that springs from Flora's spiritual crisis. Her prose is swift and beautifully spare; the dialogue is sharp and witty; yet the tone of the narrative is chilly, like white winter light, more of a hedge against emotional suicide than a life-affirming renewal of love. In a curious way, Flora's need to shape her religious imagination to escape Simon's worldly imagination comes full circle to resemble sexy and candid Gillian, who has no imagination at all. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The latest novel from St. John (Stairway to Paradise) explores an oh-so-British marriage at its crucial turning point. Simon and Flora Beaufort have three perfect children and a comfortable, happy life in London. When Flora takes the children for a month-long vacation in France, Simon stays home to work on his latest film project. At a friend s dinner party, Simon meets a cool blonde accountant named Gillian Selkirk and is completely drawn to her. As they begin a torrid affair, Flora discovers a new love of her own, in a sense: she is drawn back into her deep religious beliefs. Simon and Flora stray from one another, and things get complicated when Flora s friend Lydia spots Simon and Gillian getting intimate at a local brasserie. This novel is a quick and witty read, with sharply drawn details. Recommended for public libraries. Beth Gibbs, formerly with P.L. of Charlotte & Mecklenburg Cty., NC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Maggie Galehouse
St. John has a deft touch with dense topics...[she] casts a wry yet unwary eye on faith and fidelity, two cornerstones of existence that are, her characters discover, as transient and conditional as they had suspected...St. John's knack for smart dialogue speeds this story effortlessly along.
The New York Times Book Review
Lynne Perri
This lyrical work creates tension and heartbreak almost beyond words, as beautifully crafted as they are.
USA Today
Kirkus Reviews
Minutely observed and detailed analyses of both an endangered marriage and an unfulfilling affair dominate this witty, assured fourth novel from the Booker-nominated British author (A Stairway to Paradise, 1999, etc.). Television director Simon Beaufort seems to have it all: a thriving (if artistically frustrating) career, a beautiful and devoted wife, Flora, and three delightful children. But his family goes on a brief holiday in France, and Simon encounters—and falls hard for—Gillian Selkirk, a poised accountant who offers him splendiferous sex without commitment (she prefers "autonomy"). Flora, vaguely sensing some absence in her life, flirts, as it were, with Catholicism—and St. John skillfully plays off Simon's infidelity and guilt against what he labels his wife's "harmless delusion"—as the net around Simon tightens, and a coincidental near-meeting with Flora's old friend Lydia threatens the artificial double world he has built for himself. What one wants to call this story's hit-and-run structure—a breathlessly readable succession of very short chapters that feature sparkling and suggestive dialogue—perfectly conveys the fragmented and puzzling character of even stable long-term relationships, and brings into amazingly vivid focus the bright personalities of (the really unexceptionable) Flora and her clever, inquisitive kids (both young adolescent Janey and solemn five-year-old Thomas are marvelous creations)—all the while making something equally risible, contemptible, and heartbreaking out of Simon's confused yearnings to become both a satisfactory lover and a better husband and father. Thisnovel'sethical and narrative judiciousness may be inferred from just two of the many fortuitous near-aphorisms with which its pages fortuitously abound: "Sex, after all, is a lot more than it's cracked up to be," and "There's a lot to be said for the rules." A brilliant entertainment, and one of the few contemporary novels savvy enough to treat religious faith both seriously and comically. Put this one on the shelf not far from Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark: Madeleine St. John is of their company.

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Product Details

Avalon Publishing Group
Publication date:
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5.53(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

`Simon, there's a woman over there who keeps looking at us.'

    `Surely not.'

    `There is. For God's sake; take a look yourself. It must be someone you know.'

    `Hardly likely, darling. Just your imagination.'

    `I haven't got any imagination, as you perfectly well know. Look, there she goes again. Hurried, furtive glances. Oh my God.'

    Simon shrugged. `It's probably Flora,' he said.

    Gillian pulled her hand away from Simon's `That was despicable,' she said.

    And so it was: for Flora was Simon's deceived, betrayed wife, and Gillian was his mistress, and whether or not their liaison itself was in poor taste (as some might have averred) flippant or jesting remarks very surely were. Simon's expression was all contrition; shame filled his heart. `Sorry, darling,' he said. `Sorry, sorry, sorry.'

    Gillian said nothing. It was Flora to whom the apologies were actually due: strange that it should be she who should apparently be more conscious of this. She picked up her glass and drank, glancing across the crowded brasserie as she did so. Simon saw her sudden startled glance. `There she goes again,' she hissed. `For heaven's sake, Simon, take a look yourself. Look in the mirror.'

    Gillian was sitting with her back to the wall, which was lined with mirror glass; Simon, opposite her, peered into its depths. `Such a lot of people,' he said. `Where is she sitting, exactly?'

    `Over by the door. In a black hat.You should spot her easily.'

    Simon looked again, and this time he saw the hat: he saw the hat, he saw — briefly, dreadfully, and just sufficiently — the face beneath it. `Oh my God,' he said. And he seemed to shrink down in his chair, as if wishing to extinguish himself entirely.

    `Who is it?'

    `Of all the putrid, idiotic bad luck.'

    `Who is it?'

    `Don't look now,' Simon said, `for God's sake, don't look now — in fact, don't look again, ever. She mustn't know we've seen her. There's just a chance that she won't be sure it's me. After all, she's only seen my back.'

    `Unless she's seen your face in the mirror,' said Gillian. `Who the hell is she, Simon?' Gillian was terrified that it might, indeed, be Flora, whom she had never seen, whom she hoped she might never, never see; she was appalled at the idea in any case of their having been seen, she and Simon together: that some innocent explanation might just conceivably be offered and accepted for their presence here, now, was almost beside the point. And what, so far, had the unknown woman seen — their clasped hands? the veil of intimacy which enclosed them here in this crowded place? Who, in any event, was she?

    `Well, it isn't Flora,' said Simon.

    `Thank God for that.'

    `But it's almost as bad. Almost.'

    `Which is?'

    `It's Lydia. It's Lydia Faraday.'

    `And who, exactly,' said Gillian, `is Lydia Faraday?'

Chapter Two

When Simon had first known Flora — a decade and a half ago: how time flew! — she had still been a professing Roman Catholic, but he had soon talked her out of it.

    `I can't believe no one has told you all this before,' he said, having itemised the horrid ingredients in that scarlet brew — moral blackmail, misogyny, cannibalism and the rest. `At Cambridge, or wherever.'

    `Oh, but they have,' Flora assured him.


    `I didn't really care,' said Flora, `what the others said.'

    `Ah,' said Simon. He was home and dry. They got married, when the time eventually came, in an Anglican church, causing sorrow and consternation to Flora's parents, who knew in their bones that this was not a proper marriage ceremony, and joy and satisfaction to Simon's, whose bones told them that no other — truly — was; although of course by `proper' they meant something rather different from what Flora's parents meant; but since the bride's mother is expected to cry, anyway, everyone looked as happy on the occasion as they ought.

    When they had been married for several years, and Flora began to get a brooding look now and then, and to ask rhetorical questions about spiritual growth, Simon took a stern line. `For heaven's sake,' he said.

    `Exactly,' said Flora.

    Look, said Simon, `we're not going to have to go through this again, are we? It's hocus pocus. You agreed. And there are the kids to consider.' They had two girls and a boy.

    `Yes,' said Flora. `I'm considering them.'

    `They can be Anglican if they like,' said Simon expansively. `You too, for that matter. Further than that I'm not prepared to go. Honestly, Flora. I mean it, the Pope and Days of Obligation and plastic Virgin Marys with light bulbs inside them and all the rest of it — no way. Not in my house. Please. It's just too effing naff.'

    Flora looked down at the floor to hide her smile, but despite herself, she began to laugh. Yes, Days of Obligation, the Pope — it was naff, alright. But then — what could you expect? Simon was laughing too, relieved and glad. But then Flora stopped laughing. `That's not the whole story,' she said. `After all.' Simon didn't want to go into the rest of the story, the part that wasn't naff, because that was something even worse.

    `Be an Anglican,' he reiterated. It was the lesser of two evils. In fact it was hardly evil at all; it was probably completely harmless. `No naffery there.'

    `I wouldn't be too sure about that,' said Flora.

    She let the whole thing ride for another year, but when the mood once more came upon her — or was it the Holy Ghost speaking to her? Probably — she looked again at the noticeboard in the porch of an Anglican church not too far from where they lived in Hammersmith, and judging it rightly to be High (another, nearer, was Low) she found herself noting the times of the masses. Hmmmm, she thought. She had no present intention of attending; she was just sussing it out. In any case, she was too busy to brood very often, because she had gone into business with a woman friend importing and selling third-world textiles; and the children continued to be highly labour-intensive: Janey was thirteen, Nell was nine, and little Thomas had just turned five.

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