The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale

Angels, apes, soldiers, scientists, Mahler, love, relationships, militant atheists, terrorists – phew, I dread to think what Nigel Farndale fits in his man-bag, considering the amount of material he manages to fit into this, his Costa Award shortlisted novel.   Thankfully, I am not a minimalist, definitely not in my home and most certainly not in my reading life, so I became quickly engrossed in The Blasphemer.

The novel has multiple layers, it’s a dual time-frame narrative with one story set in war-torn France in 1917 involving the desertion of one Andrew Kennedy from his regiment, the other story set in contemporary England where Andrew’s great-grandson Daniel, a lecturer in Zoology, is perhaps guilty of deserting his wife.  Usually, with these split narrative novels, I find myself much more drawn to the historical rather than the contemporary plot but, with The Blasphemer, I found myself enjoying each narrative equally, okay, if pushed, the gripping accounts of life on the front line at Passchendaele, edged it for me, but only slightly…  As if the two meaty storylines weren’t enough to carry, Farndale has included many thematic threads such as atheism, duty, what it means to be brave, ever-evolving relationships as well as the mystery of a missing Mahler symphony.

I know that the “busyness” of the different themes/topics has proved irksome for some readers but for me it works as the author’s hand is in firm control at all times yet not so heavy as to seem intrusive.  I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by The Blasphemer as I expected a much more superficial story, indeed it was one of the few recent novels I found myself discussing with my husband, particularly the notion of bravery versus cowardice and how quick folk are to judge.  So, it’s a most definite thumbs up from me and I look forward to reading more by this author.

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13 Comments

  1. I’m pleased that you enjoyed this one too. I found myself talking to other people about the themes mentioned and I think that is a sure sign the book has achieved its aim :-) I still don’t know whether I’d instinctively save myself first and I guess I never will *fingers crossed*

  2. admin says:

    Yes, Jackie, it does provoke a lot of discussion which is always good in my “book”! I was reminded of my O Level Biology teacher telling us about the “fight, flight or fright” response and to be honest, I don’t think any of us can predict how we might react in certain situations. When I was ill a couple of years ago I thought I’d just crumble as my sister was always the “strong” one but I quite frankly surprised myself and ended up consoling everyone else! Fingers crossed indeed that we’d never be forced to make that particular decision.

  3. Jessica says:

    I was a reader that found it all abit irksome but I am in the complete minority. I never once contemplated putting it down though and read it quite quickly, it was only afterwards when I went to write the review that I realised I couldn’t really remember any of the books strengths.

    I remember once watching a documentry about ppl who had been in disasters and how they escaped when others died. It was very interesting, one guy escaped a plane by jumping over the seats while everyone else was queing in the aisle.

  4. admin says:

    Goodness, Jessica, unfortunately I think I’d be too polite to jump the queue – good manners can be a hazard sometimes!

  5. stujallen says:

    This is one I hope to pick up second hand at some point ,it does sound great and I like dual narration ,all the best stu

  6. admin says:

    I think you’ll enjoy it, Stu. It certainly provoked a lot of discussion in our household and amongst my friends and I.

  7. Annabel says:

    I loved this one and the way it dealt with so many big emotions. I did feel it was slightly rushed at the end, but otherwise I was entranced by it.

  8. admin says:

    Woo hoo, another fan Annabel! I often wonder if it is nigh impossible to wind up such a vastly themed novel successfully. You really want to find out more about what happened to the characters. Sometimes Jodi Picoult’s novels have the same problem, where “big” issues are addressed and they need to be resolved in some sort of denoument. If she has an open ending, folk complain, if it’s neatly tied up, folk complain – glad I’m not an author! ;-)

  9. Karen says:

    There’s another one for the wishlist!!! Thanks Treez! Fab review,x. (Kagzmac from RiSi)

  10. admin says:

    Hi there Karen! Glad to be of service. :-)

  11. Violet says:

    You make this sound very intriguing, indeed. Atheism, Mahler, the Great War, and more besides. I think I need to read this book!

  12. admin says:

    It’s not a very “intellectual” tome, Violet but it ticked all the right boxes for me as it was a very readable book with lots of interesting themes.

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