15 June 2012

Review: From Across the Ancient Waters by Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is a prolific author of Christian fiction. He abridged and modernised the novels of 19th century Scottish author George MacDonald, and has authored dozens of his own novels, with settings as diverse as revolutionary Russia, World War II Poland and Germany, expansionist America and contemporary Israel. His novels are all meticulously researched and feature deep spiritual truths interwoven into an interesting and often complex plot.  One possible criticism of Phillips' work is that he has a tendency to model his fiction on MacDonald's works, so his books can appear overly descriptive and preachy.

From Across the Ancient Waters is set in the fictional village of Llanfryniog on the north coast of Wales, the country where I was born. However, I have to hope that Phillips' north Wales is more attractive than my memories, which are of a cold and windswept coastline dominated by a particularly ugly nuclear power station (admittedly with the beauty of Snowdonia in the background).

Although I really wanted to like From Across the Ancient Waters, I could barely read it, although I tried several times (Amazon reviewers have commented on the slow start). I gave up in Chapter Six, at this character description: “like many adolescents—ruled by a lust for autonomy, seduced by premature self-reliance, possessed of self-gratification, and eschewing common sense in the choosing of associations”. This reminded me of Dickens in the elevated vocabulary, the intruding omniscient point of view and the moralising interjections. I was just not sufficiently interested in any of the characters to keep reading. (Dickens was apparently paid by the word, which is why he never uses a brief sentence when a page or two will do).

I really liked Michael Phillips' books once, but his past successes cannot make up for the fact that writing styles have changed and his, if this book is anything to go by, has not. Perhaps my tastes have changed. Perhaps writing styles have only changed in popular fiction, not literary fiction. If that is the case, then this falls clearly in the literary fiction camp, while I am not.  Recommended for students of 19th Century literature and lovers of the King James Bible.

Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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