Click here to read reviewer Penny Watkins' take on The Short Day Dying.
In The Short Day Dying, author Peter Hobbs stunningly immerses us into the world of Charles Wenmoth, a poor, solitary Methodist lay-priest who spends his days preaching to townsfolk and attending to the sick while also working as a blacksmith at the local forge.
This is Cornwall, 1875, and life for Charles is tough. Poverty and paucity have ravaged the land,
forcing Charles to question his deeply held faith. A simple man "unfit for beauty and grace," it is only when Charles is wondering through the bucolic Cornwall countryside that he manages to actually feel at peace.
When Charles visits Harriet French, a young and deeply ill local woman, her sickness acts as a catalyst.
He begins to question much of what he sees around him. He is angry at those who have turned away from faith, and who now have so little love for "the Lord," abandoning their search for the "pearl of great price," determined to satisfy themselves with worldly ambitions.
This area of England once belonged to prosperous villages, but many have now decayed, and the men who once came and opened up the land with mines and quarries, extracting its wealth with mining, have not brought riches to these communities. Over the years, families that Charles has loved, preached to and cared for, have fallen on hard times, also ravaged by the "sin" of drink.
A reunion with James, a childhood friend, causes Charles to reflect and remember, but his memories cannot bring back happiness; every delight he has in them seems but a form of sadness and loss. It
is "where the past is a small domain, its boundaries are thin and close."
Charles's faith is constantly tested. There is "a darkness to his soul and he wonders what spirit or sadness possesses him."
He even becomes conscious that God himself and the Holy Savior are perhaps testing him. It is only through his relationship with the land that he realizes "heaven resides at our feet as well as over our heads."
The text ignites as the author contrasts Charles's spiritual struggles as seeks to offer the ailing Harriet divine solace while enduring the aloofness of her younger brother and her lonely mother. He also must contend with the constant antipathy of his landlady, who seems to resent his obvious poverty.
Told almost in a stream-of-consciousness style with very little punctuation, A Short Day Dying takes us into the very heart of one man's journey towards redemption. Hobbs's theme is one of healing, no matter the damage and empathy for a world that often seems careless of human feelings and their place in the universal scheme of things.
Only with patience does Charles manage to keep his faith a hard stone, "a small thing but powerful and not easily crushed." Totally encapsulated in a world of faith and belief, he sees "how God and the world are one, the land a proper representation of his order."