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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 10 August 2015

"The Keys of the Kingdom" by A J Cronin

The fictional life of a catholic priest from Scotland by a master of storytelling.

In many ways Father Francis Chisolm, the hero of Cronin's tale, reminded me of the whisky priest on Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. He is a very ordinary man, convinced of his own unfitness and inadequacy to serve God, who has an extraordinary faith based on a naive personal relationship with God, perpetually at odds with the Church hierarchy. His life, from being a rivet monkey in Tyneside shipyards, a recalcitrant student and seminarian, a curate battling for working men and women, to a Chinese missionary, is contrasted with that of his boyhood friend Anselm Mealy who rises through the church to become a fat and flabby Bishop. His unorthodox beliefs ("the best man I ever knew was an atheist"), his self-doubt, and his struggles (trying and failing to be a pacifist when a Chinese warlord is shooting at his mission) make him a Christ-like figure. And there were moments when it became so sad or so touching that I found it difficult to read. Sniff!

And just like the whisky priest he is convinced of his failure to the very end. But we know that, despite the scorn of the world, here is a true hero.

There's nothing fancy about Cronin's style. He tells a good story, with clearly drawn characters. Perhaps the characters are a little bit too baddy or goody and perhaps the coincidences are a little too obvious  but it was a real page turner with lots of action and a wonderful lead character. He might not have been a posh author but he could really spin a yarn. I'll have to locate some more of his work.

The Keys to the Kingdom was a 1944 film starring Gregory Peck (and earning him an Oscar nomination).

He also wrote The Citadel (his first book and a best-seller; its description of medicine in the 1920s was helpful in the setting up of the NHS), Hatter's Castle, The Stars Look Down (an inspiration for Billy Elliot) and created the character of Dr Finlay in Adventures of a Black Bag.

An incredible book. August 2015; 316 pages


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