The Author Joris-Karl Huysmans is French, and this novel is set in France, translated from the French. That tells you a lot. One learns more of the genre, which I call religious, when one learns the book was originally published in 1904. That makes it what the publisher calls a European Classic.
From my understanding, the author was an Oblate in the Roman Catholic Church. I had the distinct feeling that the Oblate thought himself both superior to the average or common man, and at the same time found a way to make himself and his order seem humorous. That is a French kind of humor--foolish and a fool involved with a life of prayer and seeking God. Sometimes called a man who can be a fool for God. The Oblate is a man under a promise to a monastery who lives in the world, but in this case spends much time attending the prayer offices of the monastery near which he lives.
The descriptions of walks, the exterior descriptions of church works of art, the way the choir of monks makes their way through prayer, and the liturgy are well wrought. In a way, the book is a travel guide through the days of the Oblate in his duties and relations with these things. Included in these things are the living people, some women religious, as is he, and of course the monks of varying ranks. We learn something of their life.
This is no modern book, but it isn't a loss. There is no lengthy inner dialogue or long prayers to God revealing the soul of the Oblate. There is eating, and taking walks to church for worship, and mostly to the monastery. From what I gather having read this longish book, and taking my time going through it, there is a certain satisfaction in reading a book of this kind and era. I finished the work, and I was pleased to have done so.
Keep in mind that the Oblate is not always an Oblate full. That is he is going through his trial period to become an Oblate and must make a promise, which comes later in the book. So you are seeing the character develop, and in his beginning year find what is on his mind and in his heart when it comes to the Roman Church and the monastery.
Read this novel during a quiet day, or when you have quiet time so some of the older form in its translation from the French can be absorbed. As a reading exercise which gives a "foreign" look at the Oblate as he probably was 100 years ago this takes some effort and stick to itness. That effort is worth it.
The Oblate does attend the Offices for prayer. He endeavors the religious life, and being involved in living a life with the monastery rhythm, and how it is set juxtaposed with the Church. Sometimes there are tensions between the Church and Monastery. There is also a large event that takes place when the monks must leave their French monastery because of changes in the French laws. I am not letting the cat out of the bag, but want to give you the reader of this review the third part of the tensions in the book. History is a presence in the book.
My sense was to leave the book pleased, enjoying much of the descriptive parts of food, people, statuary, choir with the point of my buying the book fulfilled. I did get to know the Oblate. Keep in mind that the setting is Roman Catholic of the era around 1904. Not being too knowledgeable on the era, I was able to follow along with the secular events as well as Church.
You'll need to develop your taste for the book as you read it. I did develop a taste for it by reading the work.
--Peter Menkin, Mill Valley, CA USA