Wednesday, 13 December 2006

a canticle for leibowitz (plus bonus exorcist digression)

Inspired by its appearance in the Top 50 list referred to below, and by Alex's mention of it as one of the favourites from those he'd read off the list (and the fact that Tlon were selling a copy for 75p), I read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr.

It was okay. For me the most interesting thing about it was the premise that in the aftermath of an apocalyptic atomic war, the survivors would turn on and destroy every body and object of authority, as sharing responsibility for bringing the world to this state, except for the church (and just the Catholic church, at that) - I can't imagine that anyone writing today would make that projection. So that when we join our future history we have what is essentially a medieval world in which all learning and knowledge and education sits with religious orders in monasteries and abbeys. And the church is treated sympathetically rather than satirically. It's the kind of book which might, unexpectedly, have been looked on favourably by the Catholic church, in much the same way as The Exorcist was.

(The film of The Exorcist got an award from a Catholic organisation, I forget which. I saw the film relatively recently - certainly some time after having watched Mark Kermode's documentary about it. Strangely enough I didn't find it that scary, and I wondered if the reason why so many people do is because its characters deal with the existence of spiritual evil and a spiritual battle in a perfectly accepting, matter of fact way, rather than a sensational, standard horror movie way. Perhaps it is that idea of the existence of a spiritual world which involves evil which people find most scary; perhaps it has less of an impact on people like Christians who believe that already. Or I might just have been desensitised by everything I'd read and watched up to that point. I should )

An interesting exchange from near the end of the book (p272 of 313):
- 'If I thought I had such a thing as a soul, and that there was an angry God in heaven, I might agree with you.'
- Abbot Zerchi smiled thinly. 'You don't *have* a soul, Doctor. You *are* a soul. You *have* a body temporarily.'

The copy I got is a US edition from 1988; I'm sure I recognised the cover. Not sure how it got over here; its rippled state suggests it may have floated over. There's an ink stamp in the back that says 'Property of Paul Dwyer Catholic High School'. A quick Google suggests that the only school of that name is in Oshawa, Ontario. The first two lines of the printing history of the book are: Lippincott edition published October 1959, Catholic Digest edition published September 1960.

Walter Miller's Wikipedia entry reveals that this was his only novel published in his lifetime, that he was traumatised by his involvement in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, that he was a Catholic, and that he shot himself; it has links to a couple of interesting articles also.


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