The Blasphemer looks at several generations of males in one family, their lives, their loves and how they express them. The book flips backwards and forwards between each character, gradually unfolding a period of emotional upheaval in each of their lives. Usually books written in this way drive me daft, I’m just getting into one character’s story when the narrative breaks off and takes me somewhere else, leaving me frustrated but The Blasphemer made it easy to get into each and every life story, partially because it’s so descriptive that you can easily visualise the situations it’s describing and partly because the characters draw you in until you really want to know what will happen to them next.
Underlying the stories are a few interesting themes, can you really love someone if your instinct isn’t to put their life above your own? If you betray someone, will there be a price to pay and can it be made right? What constitutes cowardice? Are there angels out there? Daniel’s flaws, the fact that his instinct kicks in and he pushes the woman he loves out of the way in a blind panic to escape a plane crash, makes him somehow a much more likeable main character than many in literature. He isn’t perfect and he’s done something terrible but something we couldn’t guarantee we wouldn’t do ourselves. Too many men in books are the traditional male rescuer, putting life and limb in peril without a thought to save a woman. Daniel doesn’t do this automatically but he does try and make it right. Can he? Will she forgive him for letting instinct over-ride love? Well that would be telling. Is his grandfather a coward for leaving the battlefields of the Somme? You’ll have to make your own mind up on that one. For me, the book underlined that you can’t really judge a man’s actions until you’ve been in his circumstances yourself and you know for certain how you’d react. We idealise behaviours that perhaps aren’t realistic and expect too much of a person under extreme stress. The book is written with a really neutral tone, the author is explaining the facts and leaving you to make your own value judgements on the characters and I liked this, the lack of trying to direct the reader’s thoughts along a certain path.
The one thing that didn’t really grab me in this book was the theological discussions between Daniel and his friend. I’m not wildly into religious philosophy and for me, these debates were a bit lengthy and a bit ‘A-level seminar discussion’ but that’s a personal thing and if spirituality and theology have even the slightest pull for you, you might well enjoy them.
All in all I found this a really interesting read, with unusual characters, all of them flawed somehow and all stumbling along trying to find the right path and make good damage that they’ve done somehow unwittingly inflicted. Definitely recommended