The doleful, English, mill town of Fetherhoughton is the stage for this short, delightful novel, FLUDD, by Hilary Mantel. There are four principal players. Father Angwin, pastor of the Roman Catholic church of St. Thomas Aquinas, has lost his belief in God's existence, but determinedly continues to serve his flock while suffering the oversight of his idiot diocesan bishop. Miss Dempsey, his spinster housekeeper, lives in terror of a small wart above her upper lip, thinking it a portent of cancer. Sister Philomena, a nun teaching in the parish school, is an Irish girl forced by her family into the convent, where she endures the petty tyranny of its Mother Superior. Then there's FLUDD, a curate ostensibly sent by the obnoxious bishop to help Angwin modernize his pastoral approach. Or is he? Once Fludd is in residence, people begin to, um, transform.
The engaging aspect of this story is that the reader never understands the nature of the being called Fludd, a mystery also grazing Angwin's perception during his first meal with Fludd, when the former observed:
"Whenever (he) looked up at (Fludd), it seemed that his whiskey glass was raised to his lips, but the level of what was in it did not seem to go down; and yet from time to time the young man reached out for the bottle, and topped himself up. It had been the same with their late dinner, there were three sausages on Father Fludd's plate, and he was always cutting into one or other, and spearing a bit on his fork; he was always chewing in an unobtrusive, polite way, with his mouth shut tight. And yet there were always three sausages on his plate, until at last, quite suddenly, there were none."
Is Fludd a man, or something else. He can tell fortunes by looking at the palm of one's hand. He alludes to having once been the practitioner of another profession that sounds a lot like alchemy. Odd talents for a Catholic priest. In any case, by the satisfying end of the tale, you, the reader, is left to decide for yourself - if you can.