Book Title: The Countenance Divine
Author: Michael Hughes
Publisher: John Murray (publishers). To be released on the 11th of August 2016.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Page Count: 308
Genre: Historical fiction
Audience: Those who enjoy intricate stories with several different writing styles
Buy? Read? Avoid?: Read it, see if it suits you, if so then enjoy!! And buy!
Summed up in one word: Bold
Author Bio: Michael Hughes is an author, actor and teacher. He trained in Theatre in Paris and has had acting roles under the name Michael Colgan and he studied/taught Creative Writing in London. The Countenance Divine is his debut novel!
First Impression: It is unfortunate when a reader and a book don't really work well together. I just was not compatible with this book. The parts that I followed and appreciated were impressive, I just could not keep up with all the depth and references that come with several key historical figures. The Countenance Divine is a bold effort, I can imagine that someone well read in the classics, poetry and philosophical texts would find this work more enjoyable than I did. Michael Hughes is a brave author, he put his all into this book and it really shows, there are many different layers of story and writing styles included in this piece, it truly is impressive.
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 mystery master.
In 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.
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?
Story: For a book that only goes on for around 300 pages, there is a lot to talk about here. Michael Hughes went all out for this story, threading 3 historical figures and one historical event together over a 400 year period. We get a computer programmer who is trying to solve the Two Thousand Year Problem. We get Jack The Ripper and his letters to the various key people investigating his horrific murders. Then there is William Blake and his holy visions, working hard to fulfil his apparent destiny. Finally we spend time with Thomas Allgood who has been set on a path to meet and work with the blind poet John Milton (Paradise Lost), his story is set during the events surrounding The Great Fire Of London. If you are looking for quantity then this is your book! All these characters and events are connected in some way or another and they are all to do with one subject, the end of this world and the start of the next.
Now in terms of quality this book is also top notch... Using historical figures was an excellent choice. The only downside to this is the fact that to truly appreciate what this book is about, you need to understand the people in this book. I followed the plot lines well, I understood what was happening, I just did not fully appreciate what the events meant and the overall effect of the book. There are many people out there that will truly love this piece, its meaning, its style and what it achieves, I just was not able to.
On a final note on the story, I found spending time around the historical events in this book fascinating, being on the ground during The Great Fire Of London and seeing people struggle with the looming possibility of the world as we know it collapsing due to the Millennium Bug. These are the elements that kept me reading, but they are few and far between.
Characters: The stand out characters in this piece are the historical figures. Spending time with Jack The Ripper, John Milton and William Blake was a real treat. I know that Michael Hughes fictionalised them all to a certain degree, but me being a history lover, I was excited to be reading about these people. Chris (the programmer) was the most effective character in this book as he was completely oblivious and naive to all that was actually going on, this meant everything had to be explained to him and therefore to me, the reader. There are some bizarre characters included in this tale, but that is a surprise for those of you who read this book :). The difference in era, writing style, language and experiences of each individual character makes this book not only diverse but also keeps the reader guessing about the plot until its last pages.
Themes: Lots of strong themes here. Religion, Death, Poetry and Humanity are the main elements to this story with many other themes included to add depth and potency to the story, for example love, violence and trickery.
Likes: I really liked the difference in characters. The spectrum of emotions and experiences really stands out here. From the gore of JTR to the poetry of Milton, the idiocy/panic of Chris to the faithfulness of Blake. The fact that MH really committed to this story line and pulled it off well is the best part to this book! The COVER ART for this book is the second best part of it, it is gorgeous and if I am rating it just on that then 10/10!
Dislikes: I was unable to truly appreciate this book from lack of understanding of certain aspects of the characters, that is not necessarily a flaw in the book, maybe just a flaw in my reading ability but it is a relevant problem. The changes in character, perspective and writing style can be confusing at first, trying to get your head around it can be frustrating, though once you get into a rhythm then you can get comfortable. This is definitely a book you read twice.
Rating: This is a beautiful looking book that will blow plenty of people's minds. It just did not hit the mark with me. There are some very well written characters and some very memorable moments in this piece. With horror, religion and gore carefully weaved through it as well, the author shows he is talented and he potential to be a best seller. The Countenance Divine is one of the most ambitious books I have ever read and you need to check it out for yourselves!