The strapline on the front cover says : "What if a book could answer all your deepest questions ... if you were willing to risk everything?" It sounds mysterious and sinister and maybe a bit supernatural. The blurb on the back intensifies the sense of mystique : "A journalist is drawn into a secret, mysterious world where she must risk everything in the pursuit of truth and love". I personally didn't really find this reflected very accurately the content and tone of the book.
The structure reminded me of a festive bag that my nan always used to put on the wall in the run up to Christmas. You could see Santa holding a bag resembling the bag and each bag in the picture had a smaller and smaller picture of the original bag on it. This chain of echoes, constantly removing the viewer (or in this case reader) further and further away from the original, is similar to the opening structure of the novel. We meet Joanna, a slightly disillusioned Fleet Street journalist, who stumbles across the personal journal of Anna Leigh, a woman whose tumultuous personal life strangely resembles Joanna's and who documents her discovery of another book, written by Julian of Norwich, a 14th-century English nun who risked being accused of heresy for shunning the fire and brimstone religious notions of the time in order to reveal God's all-encompassing love and forgiveness.
Joanna sets out to find answers to her personal and professional dilemmas by taking inspiration from Anna and, through her journal entries, Julian. For me, this sense of distance - seeing Joanna's inner turmoil filtered through or echoed in Anna's and Julian's - diluted the emotional impact and left me feeling that I didn't really know Joanna at all.
About a third of the way through the novel, Joanna comes to the final, rather abrupt entry in Anna's journal - we have no idea of what happened to Anna and I wondered where the book would and could now lead us. The focus shifts more fully on to Joanna, whose personal and professional life evolves in unexpected ways. You've probably heard of the expression "after the rain comes the sun" but in Joanna's world, it seems more like after the rain comes more rain ! The constant doom and gloom became a bit depressing and I wondered if she would ever get a break. Turning back to her quest to understand Anna and Julian, she realises that this calvary is part of her life journey - she needs the pain and sadness to understand and embrace universal love, of God and of herself.
Maybe I'm not spiritual enough but I will admit that at times, reading the novel seemed like my own personal calvary ! It's not badly written but it seemed to take a very long time to get anywhere and the tone seemed rather dark and depressing, even if it does end with a positive view of contentment and self-acceptance. If you want a book that will make you think about the meaning of life, whether or not you're a religious person, it certainly fits the bill, but if you want some frothy escapism after a long day at work, you'd be better off with some chicklit !
star rating : 2.5/5
RRP : £8.99
Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.