The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes. Book Review
It is 1999 and Chris Davison is one of many programmers frantically trying to make sure the millennium bug does not crash computer systems worldwide, to prevent a potential disaster in waiting, possibly leading to the end of the world.
This is not the first time it seems as if, at least to some individuals, the world is going to end. In 1888 a Jack the Ripper type of character is picking off young women in the East End of London. In the late eighteenth-century William Blake the poet and artist literally sows the seeds to supernatural goings-on, while embarking on his own strange and mystical journey. In the century before this John Milton sets about completing his epic Paradise Lost.
The Countenance Divine is definitely one of those books which will leave the reader feeling it is one of the most intriguing things they have ever read, but are left completely bemused by it. It certainly makes you work hard to love it.
Each of the different eras has a completely different voice and feel, which require you to keep shifting gear with each new chapter. Just as you get into the swing of things, the chapter changes, along with the rhythm, making it a challenge to get bedded back down into the story and read on.
This is why it might at first feel like the author has stitched four books together to make one. The links are there, but it is necessary to hang onto the clues in the prose as the chapters dart back and forth through the centuries, or you’re likely to miss how they all hang together.
But when you do get used to this narrative switchback, something quite interesting begins to emerge and you become very interested in where it is all leading. The voices do work very well and the different eras feel authentic, creating an immersive experience for the reader, with all the attendant sights and smells. Throughout it all you get an uncomfortable sense of impending doom.
The Countenance Divine is a book to keep and muse over, because it is the type of story whose enjoyment will benefit from more than one reading, as the wisdom of the first run through allows the plot to sink in and makes it possible to appreciate the quality of the writing.
The Countenance Divine was courtesy of John Murray via NetGalley.