The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale

Remember I talked a while back about bookish grumps? Well one book that I had three quarters finished and then put down was the one I am going to talk about today as finally a week or so ago I finished it. I originally started it at the beginning of January so its been quite a process and I have needed another week or so to mull it all over, look at the book notes made in my book note notebook and finally come up with something that I think I can share with you all. I thought I would explain all this to start so you can see that for my posts a lot of thinking and mulling and behind the scenes work goes on.

‘The Blasphemer’ is the first book I have read by Nigel Farndale and it has been quite a reading journey with some stops and starts along the way. Essentially it is two alternating stories one is set in the present and is a tale of Daniel Kennedy and his wife Nancy who whilst holidaying in the Galapagos Islands endure a horrifying time when their plane ditches into the sea and the events after that as Daniel saves himself before remembering to save Nancy and all that follows from his actions. The other tale is of Daniel’s great grandfather Andrew and starts in 1917 as he prepares to go over the top to fight for his country and his life.

Now reading the above synopsis back I am thinking how on earth could I have had a hard time with that? Both stories sound quite thrilling and gripping and indeed they were but despite the writing of the modern tale (the scenes of the plane crash are incredibly tense and terrifying and not for those of you who like me who don’t like flying anyway) it read more like a good thrilling summer read as opposed to the other war torn harrowing and horrific storyline which to me read like an award winning book. Together the juxtaposition just didn’t gel for me initially and I was having a hard time with the transition from one to the other but by the end it’s worth the effort.

The second challenge for me was sadly Nancy and Daniel. I didn’t really understand why they were married as they didn’t seem to like each other before Daniel almost forgot to save her life. Yes ok they had been through a traumatic event and must have been in shock but you’d think they would celebrate surviving and they didn’t they just moped and griped. Yet in the other storyline you had an amazing love story between Andrew and Madame Camier which makes your heart bleed. I think, well I hope, that Farndale was trying to contrast the couples as well as Daniel and Andrew and the fault probably lies with me for not trying hard enough to involve myself in the modern storyline.

The final challenge for me (and I am saying challenge and not hurdle as challenges can be positive) was how much Farndale was putting into the book for example Daniel had only been in the UK a few weeks after the plan crash when he witnesses a terrorist bomb when a van five cars ahead of him blows up so terrorism becomes a topic. We also have another character Daniel works with who is a professor that sleeps with and beats his students which then opens up huge questions about education and then a can of worms about religion (I can’t explain it would take a while) and though I am good at suspending belief with a book I felt I was stretched at points and I haven’t even mentioned the angels – yes there is an angel subject in the book too. It’s quite a lot to take in, but all written really, really well.

With so many idea’s, topics etc in the book I did start to notice I was becoming a cynical reader when I was thinking ‘oh and now we have a gay male character that’s another subject and box ticked’ when actually the relationship between Daniel and his best friend is a wonderful insight into men who care for each other in a purely platonic way. When I got to cynical I stopped reading again but that war time tale of Andrew running along side kept drawing me back to the book again. An interesting read for me in many ways.  I wouldn’t be shocked (or horrified) to see this in the Booker Longlist actually.

All in all and taking lots of stops and starts into account I enjoyed it. I just felt, and this is a compliment, that Farndale had so much to say maybe there should have been two books but then the end result wouldn’t have worked. Ok maybe it should have been a longer book, but then would I have read on if things had been explained slowly with more time to flourish in the long term? Oh it’s a difficult book to sum up even after I have mulled it over and given it space yet its one I am definitely glad I have read. I think its one to get and read slowly and yet pay quite a lot of attention to. Maybe its one to go back to and read again in a few years when I am on holiday on the beach and can give it much more time. As long as I don’t read the beginning on the plane that is!

Have any of you read a book that’s really taken you on reading journey like this, from loving, indifference everything in-between and back again? Has anyone else read ‘The Blasphemer’ and what did you think? I would like to try another Nigel Farndale book, any recommendations?


Filed under Nigel Farndale, Review, Transworld Publishing

18 responses to “The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale

  1. gaskella

    I really enjoyed the Blasphemer. Like you had some difficulty getting to grips with the sheer amount of plot in it. Initially I found it quite slow-burning, but once I got past that it was great – I particularly like the WWI strand too, but could have done without Wetherby and his machinations in the present.

    • Its not that I could have done without anything (well maybe the wife) exactly I just sometimes do think less is more. This was so brimming it could have been a whole lot longer I think thats what stopped it from being unputdownable for me.

  2. Hmm, I don’t think this book is for me, but thanks anyway for your review!

  3. In reading your review, I was going to say the same thing…maybe the guy needed to make this into a series or something. There is such a thing as too much stuff crammed into one book.

    • Yeah I had the feeling that maybe it was me being a lazy reader though I do give my all to every book. I prefer to look at my faults with my reading rather than at the author and the writing. I did like it, just didnt love it, very glad I finished it though.

  4. Sounds like there was quite a bit happening in the story. I’m still really keen on giving this a try though, and I’m hoping my library stocks up with this book soon.

    • Definitely give it a go. I would hate to put anyone off a book, I dont understand what some bloggers gain from saying ‘dont read this’ it could be the wrong time or just not the book for them. If I hadnt liked this I wouldnt have finished it or written about it.

  5. henrietta

    I have not read this, but was reading “Cornflower Books” this morning, and she also has a review of this up today. I thnk I wil have a look…….

  6. Dot

    It does sound as though there is a lot going on in this book, it’s great when you do finish something eventuallu though!

    • There was lots and lots going on, thats quite a good think – nothing worse than an empty book. I am glad I finished it, I wouldn’t have if I hadnt seen something or somethings quite special in it.

  7. farmlanebooks

    I’ve just finished this book and I loved it! It did stretch the limits of plausibility a few times and I think I’d have cut the terrorism and that annoying Webster character out, but overall I thought it was fantastic.

    I thought the two story strands worked equally well and I thought that Daniel and Nancy had a typical relationship and wasn’t bothered about that at all. I’m pleased that you made it to the end eventually and I’d love to see this on the Booker longlist!

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  9. Jeff

    This is a complex book, one that weaves intricate plots together. Sometimes, the plots are in parallel as support, other times as contrast. All in all, I think it’s about one character – Daniel – and him (scientifically?) coming to grips with what makes him human: conflicting emotions, philosophies, morals and experiences. There is a pretty persistent theme of contrasting courage, duty and death with fear, humanity and the will to live. I need to read this again…there are many levels to explore – not the least of which is the sub-sub-plot of Mahler’s alternate beginning to his “ninth” symphony. Is that a metaphor to our lives, a different beginning…that of the character Daniel…or a different end?

    • Hmmm I didnt find the plotting intricate I just found it a little clumsy and as if the author wasnt really at the helm o his own work. Maybe its one I should try again one day?

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