a book to close reluctantly

Posted by on February 28, 2007


A friend lent us her copy of The Diary of a Country Priest and recommended it as good lenten reading. Since I just finished a really ridiculous paperback fantasy novel by Robert Jordan, which took me a disproportionately long time to read (I began it the day after Christmas), I decided that Great Lent might be a good time to return to real literature and make a better effort to spend more time reading, rather than just snatches of time in between other tasks, and uh, wathcing evening re-runs of Seinfeld, and (more embarrassingly) King of Queens.

I began this a few days ago and can already sniff it out as a book that will become a favorite. It says something that I actually failed to realize at first that it is fiction; I thought for the first several pages that it was a real, published diary. But long ago I decided that fiction that could be real, might as well be real; and fiction that might as well be real, is in fact real, because it has a real effect, and good fiction has a real effect on the reader. For me, the mere existence of a holy person has great power to cheer me up and bolster my faith, even if I don’t know them personally. The character of the country priest is real to me in this way, and his existence, his articulation of thoughts, his virtue, sensitivity, self-deprecation, second guessing of himself, social awkwardness, consciensciousness (will someone spell this for me while I type it out?) toward others, ability to perceive, his feelings of impotence and powerlessness within the realm of practical things, and so on, gives me hope, cheers me up, and comforts just as adequately as would the existence of a real person, alive right now, or having lived in another century. Far from slamming this book shut like a hot potato, I keep closing it reluctantly.

Here are just a few quotes related to his thoughts on keeping a diary:

“When writing of oneself one should show no mercy. Yet why at the first attempt to discover one’s own truth does all inner strength seem to melt away in floods of self-pity and tenderness and rising tears….”

And…

“I hoped that this diary might help me concentrate my thoughts, which will go wandering on the few occasions when I have some chance to think a little. I had thought it might become a kind of communion between God and myself, an extension of prayer, a way of easing the difficulties of verbal expression which always seems insurmountable to me, due no doubt to the twinges of pain in my inside. Instead I have been made to realize what a huge inordinate part of my life is taken up with the hundred and one little daily worries which at times I used to think I had shaken off for good. Of course Our Lord take His share of all our troubles, even the paltriest, and scorns nothing. But why record in black and white matters which should be dismissed as fast as they happen?”

  1. Ser
    March 2, 2007

    I love the quotes. I’m going to have to check this book out. And I’m glad that someone besides me reads literature during Lent. I always feel like I’m not reading the “right” books during Lent, but I always re-read _Father Melancholy’s Daughter_ and _Evensong_ by Gail Godwin. They are both very inspiring to me and perfect for Lent in my estimation.

  2. Julia
    March 3, 2007

    I’d never heard of Gail Godwin, but I just looked her up and she’s written a lot of stuff. I’m ALWAYS looking for fiction recommendations, so thanks, I’ll check this author out.

  3. Anonymous
    March 5, 2007

    I highly recommend Robert Bresson’s film “Diary of a Country Priest” which is based on the Bernanos novel. The film follows the same story, but the narrator-priest in the film is given a more restrained voice. You might want to read about Bresson’s film style before watching it.