Book Review: Evensong, by Gail Godwin

Finishing Gail Godwin’s Evensong without being patted on the back for my achievement was a bit anticlimactic. I wanted to give up SO many times, and the fact that I actually made it all the way through (ok, with some ~serious~ skimming near the end, I confess) deserves some kind of recognition! How did I do it? When exactly did I start caring about the characters in the book? Did I ever really care at all? Not easy questions to answer, and not a particularly easy review for me to do tonight.

The book is about two priests – or pastors, or rectors, I’m still not sure – they are husband and wife. They are Episcopalian, I got that much. There was a lot of discussion of things I need to look up in order to properly understand: the Advent, the Eucharist, and many more such capitalized Episcopalian rites. I mean no disrespect, in fact, I was quite intrigued. As a convert to my religion, I appreciate how unusual religious observances can appear to the un(religiously)educated eye. Anyway, the wife is in charge of a congregation high in the mountains of North Carolina, the husband is the chaplain and acting headmaster at the town’s alternative boarding school for wayward youth. He is about 20 years older than her and suffers from terrible bouts of depression. They are both orphans – he since being abandoned as a child, she since the death of her mother when she was 6 and her father when she was in her 20’s. They are at best both damaged property.

There are some odd elements sprinkled into this book, which is largely a quiet, slow, microscopic evaluation of their religious training and beliefs, as well as their lives together. First, the book takes place at the close of 1999, and a major plot point is a discussion of the Millenium and the varying beliefs and odd behavior of people in their attempt to understand Y2K. There are also two characters introduced midway through the book – the 16yr Chase, a miscreant from the school, and Tony, a mysterious traveling monk. I think it may have been the injection of these two more interesting characters that saved me from closing down completely on the humdrum husband and wife.

The “pros” of this book are few, and would have been much more valuable if I had enjoyed the story more: there are only about 3 or 4 obscenities, and only a couple of vaguely referenced examples of sexual content. There is one uncomfortable discussion about self-flagellation, but in the context of the story, it fits. I should be shouting “hurrahs” for finding such a *clean* book. If only it weren’t so dull!

*Disclosure: Amazon affiliate link included.