The Dark Mirror
Gladys Hobson’s novel, The Dark Mirror, reminded me of the much-beloved Starbridge series by Susan Howatch. Paul Stringer’s parish is in the North of England, in Cumbria, rather than Starbridge’s fictional western counties. But his problems are just as real, and just as deeply rooted in that dichotomy where love meets law. The author portrays church, people and countryside very convincingly, with dialog that rings in the ears, accents as readable as they are audible, quiet village pub and sprawling church-yard filled with the scents and sounds of England. She also tackles the hard problems of the Church of England: homosexuality, the role of the Spirit, tradition vs modernity, age vs youth.
A long-time opponent of homosexuality, Paul finds his celibacy challenged when he finally falls in love. Led by circumstances or God to a new church, he’s ideally fitted to bring the divided congregation together. Social religion and true faith are nicely contrasted as Paul begins to make changes. But his path isn’t smooth. “It wasn’t even a proper bloody sermon!” grumbles traditionalist Kevin Raymond, while eager Rita gushes, “I felt the power of the Spirit present among us.”
Paul weaves a careful path, delighting in help, trying to guide without wounding, moving slowly towards that wonderful moment of “dancing in the aisles.” Meanwhile he suffers all the problems of a handsome single priest, all alone in that big vicarage, without the temptations. People talk—they just haven’t worked out yet what they might be talking about. Meanwhile there’s Nick, and love.
The relationship between Paul and Nick is nicely portrayed, with love that’s not just physical, faith that’s not just judgment and law, and hope that persists in believing in the power of prayer. A beautiful novel for anyone willing to wonder how the Church of England might cope, how love and law might be united, or just how an English village might react, years after the event, to a woman’s claim that her child was miraculously conceived, G.B. Hobson’s Dark Mirror holds a wise mirror up to prejudice and legalism, shedding light on some dark corners of the human condition.
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The Dark Mirror is now to be published by Storm Moon Press and will be available in March 2013.
And now a Review by Andrew O'Hara Author and editor (the Jimston Journal)
The Dark Mirror by G B Hobson
Gladys Hobson boldly explores the life of handsome Anglican priest Paul Stringer as he takes on an impoverished parish and pursues a loving affair—with a neighboring male priest. The author follows him as he struggles painfully with a commitment to his church and his desperate need for acceptance and companionship.
Although the two priests determine to keep their personal affair confidential, they learn that suspicions are quick to arise in this small community. Confused by the rebuffs of the parish’s most eligible bachelor, local women begin to grow increasingly suspicious of his often repeated vow of bachelorhood. Worse, the enmity of the church warden, the jealousy of a woman spurned and the sexual escapades of two teenage lovers in the chapel are twisted into a scandal that threatens to expose not only the relationship of the priests but destroy their many accomplishments in the church.
Smoothly, expertly written, the author captures the essence and conflict of human love and religion as they struggle to coexist in a judgmental world. Hobson reveals a church hierarchy attempting to compromise with a nervous reality, and walks the reader ever so beautifully through the torment of a young man deeply devoted to his vows and wanting fervently to serve his parish--with the support of a loving partner. As the story unfolds, however, his options grow more desperate and his torment ever more intense.
Hobson is a writer of the first class, able to build a story quickly and maintain excitement throughout the book. Her characters are full and multidimensional—at times, the reader is torn by compassion and empathy for one and then the other. Such is the making of a fine novel and a book well worth reading. It is unfortunate that books such as these, so worthy of recognition, go unheralded by the literary establishment. I, for one, give it “tens” across the board. Andrew F O'Hara