‘Impossible saints’ by Clarissa Harwood



I cam across this book on the same goodreads-list as ‘My dear Hamilton’ and ‘Now we shall be entirely free’, two of my favorite books of 2018, so I had high expectations for Impossible Saints. I assumed the books would have some of the same qualities as those other tow historical novels: intelligent, romantic and well-written. Alas only one of these qualities can be found in this book. It is romantic, but not much else can be said for it.

It is the story is set in 1907 and follows Lilia and Paul, a typical we-are-two-different-and-could-never-be-together couple. Lilia is a young suffragist and agnostic. She has left her family largely behind to go to London and to join the women’s struggle. Her parents contact their friend Paul, a canon,  and ask him to check in on their daughter in London. Paul and Lilia are as different as they could be. One is a conservative and the other a suffragist, one is idealistic and the ambitious to climb in the church, one is a high-church priest and the other an agnostic. Still, they bond over their shared love of Latin and Greek literature and they fall in love, although it takes a long time before either recognizes it. In addition to being fans of the Classics, Lilia and Paul are not keen on the idea of marriage. She does not like the legal implications that follows from such a union and Paul is a bit scared of it after having seen his parent’s marriage end in a divorce. it was rather traumatic for him as it made it clear that the man he called dad was not in fact his biological father. In order to be together Paul and Lilia have to do find some compromises, change their mind on some accounts and finally deal with issues from their respective childhood.

Perhaps Lilia is intended to be a sort of Annie Beasant figure? Strong suffragist and socialist, rebelling against traditional religion and married to a vicar? I thought she would be an interesting character but both she and Paul seem like rather flat characters. There is not much more to them than their political and religious beliefs.

However, I can deal with some two-dimensional characters if the plot and writing of a book is good. What really ruined this book for me was that nothing is left unsaid.  The author must think her readers extremely dense an incapable of inferring anything. For example, instead of allowing us to observe for ourselves that both Lilia and Paul use their clothing as political statements, he makes Lilia point this out in stilted awkward dialogue. I have never in my life met someone who begins a conversation with a new acquaintance by outright commenting on similarities between them, like ‘Hi, look how different we are!’. When the dialogue is this stilted and the prose this poor, it becomes very, very difficult to enjoy a book.

I do appreciate a theme of how people different people can be happy together (we certainly need it in today’s political climate), but it is just too poorly executed here.


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