Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"A House Like a Lotus" - Madeleine L'Engle

This is quietly one of the most extraordinary young adult books that I've read. Unfortunately it is almost as unavailable as a book is able to be - I was lucky enough to find a cheap secondhand copy from a seller in the US, which was shipped to me in a couple of weeks or thereabouts.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote some of the books that I enjoyed most as a young person, and then enjoyed again as an adult - the "Wrinkle in Time" series. What I only realised today was that WiT was number 20 on a list of the top 50 books that have influenced evangelicals - ahead of "Left Behind" and "Operation World"! It was only relatively recently that I came across the quote from L'Engle along the lines of: if a book would be too difficult to write for adults, write it for children.

"A House Like a Lotus" is the story of a young woman, Polly, who has seized an opportunity to travel across the world, clearly fleeing from something at home that she can't cope with. What that is is only gradually unwrapped, through memories, and its interactions with her present company, and we then have to see whether this is something which she is going to be able to come to terms with before it is too late.

L'Engle writes with a level of scientific and artistic literacy that is rarely, if ever, seen in any author. She also writes with an extraordinary level of empathy and understanding of the minds of her characters - in my opinion, she really captured the behaviour of the children and young people she wrote about, despite having written this well in her 60s. The dynamic of the relationship between Polly and Max - an older woman who Polly ends up almost treating as God, and who is unable to live up to this status - was also interesting. L'Engle's characters are complex and subtle - it's too easy to have pantomime heroes and villains, and hers are never caricatures.

L'Engle makes little in the way of explicit religious declaration throughout the book - if your assumption is that anything influencing evangelical Christians is going to draw lines and bash people over the head with the Bible, this would throw you! The practice of tolerance, wisdom and acceptance that is the thread in this book and all of her other books is one which I admire and aspire to, although I'm more generally aware of how far I fall short.

I'd like to say: get this book and read it straight away. But you can't, as it's simply not available. I am, however, hoping to find people to read my copy and tell me what they think soon - let me know if you think you might be interested.

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