Book Review: The Abbey – A Story of Discovery (James Martin, SJ)


An unexpected find  

I was browsing through the shelves of the Catholic bookstore in Cape Town’s CBD when this book’s jacket just jumped out at me. Maybe it was because of the name :). Or, perhaps it was the striking image that caught my eye –lush green grass and trees, blue sky with the yellowish-brown ground in the front. I’m not entirely sure why, but I was drawn to it.

I showed it to my friend Berenice and lo and behold, a few months later she bought it for me as a birthday gift.

I didn’t really know what to expect. As I found it in the Catholic bookstore I expected it to be… Catholic-like. Of course. It was, but not in a way that makes the rest of us feel like outsiders. I could really relate to this novel.

What it’s about

The Abbey tells the stories of three main characters namely Anne, Mark and Father Paul.

Anne had lost her young son a few years ago when he died in an accident. She feels responsible, as on this particular day, she refused to drive him to the movies. Jeremiah and his friends decided to take their bikes instead, and he was killed. Even though Anne was raised in the church, these days she has a hard time believing in God’s love. A few years after the accident, she is still hurting.

Mark is a qualified architect that works as a handyman at the Abbey of Saints Philip and James. He has dated a string of women – it’s what makes him feel good – and being rejected is not something he is used to. Like all of us, Mark has dreams, but is reluctant to work towards attaining them.

Father Paul is at the helm of the abbey. He goes about his daily duties and in a calm and peaceful manner, and through meaningful conversations, he makes an impact on the lives of those he comes into contact with. In particular Anne and Mark. At the same time he has his own fears and concerns to deal with. He is human, after all, and simply strives to live up to his vows.

The lives of these characters become entwined. When Anne asks Mark for a lift home (she happens to be his landlady), he stops by the abbey and she ends up going inside for the first time in years. This is where Anne starts to explore her relationship with God. Through conversations with Father Paul, she starts to see God in a new light, even though she has no intention of becoming a ‘religious freak’. To Mark’s surprise, not being a religious person at all, he sees Father Paul as one of his closest companions.

What I thought of it

I said before that I could relate to this book. This is simply because I had empathy with the characters – what they experienced both in their daily and spiritual lives. It was amazing to see how their belief systems grew, and how they opened themselves up to new understanding. The book also delves into the relationships between people and shows how much we need and lean on each other, sometimes without even realising it. I learned a lot through their experiences and feel that the author did a great job of teaching relatable lessons without coming across as judgemental or prescriptive.

The Abbey is an accessible book. Really. If you’re willing to be open-minded, I suggest you give this debut a try.

Published by: HarperOne



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