Review: The Countenance Divine

Publisher’s description:
‘Michael Hughes writes like a brilliant cross between David Mitchell and Hilary Mantel’ Toby Litt

In 1999 a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can’t shake the sense he’s been chosen for something.

In 1888, five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master.

In 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.

And in 1666, poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later.

But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end?

As a Netgalley reader I get a chance to read books before their publication date for free and I requested to read The Countenance Divine A by  Michael Hughes because of the plot description. The cross-timeline theme of it intrigued me, however it didn’t really live up to my expectations. Whilst I am not a “casual” reader I struggled to keep engaged with the story in more than one place. This book is that it is not a light read. It needs some time devoted to it to keep proper track of the plot. If you have the time to spend at least a couple of hours on it in each session (and without many days gap) then you will probably get more out of it than I did. I struggled particularly in 18th Century sections of the book as the main character just irritated me. Also I suspect that if someone struggled to empathise with a devout Christian’s point of view they may feel the urge to throw this book out of the window.

All that said, the concept behind this book is fascinating. As the plot progresses and the stories begin to become more obviously linked I became more enthralled. The author essentially rewrites history, entwining some pretty horrific and sinister themes with faith and hope. I liked the countdown in the 20th Century section (I didn’t spot it until right at the end, probably because of the formatting that happens in the Kindle version of the book) and that the author added a note at the end which told us a little bit about the historical figures in the book. I didn’t think I would but I think the Ripper sections of the book were actually the ones I found most fascinating. Perhaps because the individual is so shrouded in mystery.

This book isn’t badly written, and the concept and plot aren’t bad, it just wasn’t for me. If you are someone who can/does spend hours a day reading and can cope with jumping between 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Century dialogue then crack at it. I literally lost the plot on more than one occasion.

Whilst I would not buy this for myself or generally recommend/buy it for most of my friends there are almost certainly some who would find this tale an intriguing and satisfying read. Just not me.

So, 3 stars from me.



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