Friday, September 09, 2011

Book Review: The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock

Back in July, I was accepted to the Crossway Publishers' Blogger Book Review program. They send me a free book every couple of months and I agree to write a review and publish it on this blog as well as use social media to get others to read my review. Crossway is not just any publisher. Their purpose is expressly to help spread the gospel message, and I have found myself consistently blessed in my own spiritual life through their resources.

The Hardest Thing to Do is a novel, the fourth in a series by Penelope Wilcock. I have never read anything by this author and typically do not read fiction, but my hope was to break out of a reading rut to stimulate other parts of my brain!

Here is what I like about this book:
  • Set in pre-Reformation England, this book has the feel of historical accuracy as it details the lives of a community of Benedictine monks. You get the sense that Wilcock has lived what she writes.
  • The author writes very descriptively and joyfully. She uses words that I don't know (but probably should!) without making me feel illiterate.
  • It is a story about monks. As a protestant, my opinion of monks is colored by Martin Luther's experience of works-sought-righteousness. After reading this story, I found myself longing for the monastic lifestyle, not so much for it simplicity but for the portrayal of genuine Christian community.
  • The characters are honest in their longings, struggles, and joys.
Here is what I struggled with in reading this book:
  • There are myriads of characters to keep up with (Brother so-and-so, Father so-and-so) but fortunately the book begins with a catalog of characters and where they belong in the narrative. By the end, I finally felt less confused.
  • Latin! Wish it were translated somewhere in the footnotes.
If you want to get a synopsis of the story and other reviews, click here. What I can add is this: I will definitely put Penelope Wilcock on my list of authors to follow. If Christian fiction is written so that we will know what the gospel looks like, fleshed out in everyday life, then give me more of this. Life is full of difficult choices : whether to forgive and believe that God can change a person's character (mine too!), how to show mercy to an offender without disrespecting another who has been hurt in the process, facing the ugly realities in one's heart that keep us from obeying the gospel. Wilcock shows us that there is a way forward but it takes effort, understanding, a giving up of one's rights, and trust that God bring beauty out of ashes.

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