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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 12 May 2013
I read this book possibly too quickly, half of it while sitting almost in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral itself and within a ten or so minute walk to Dame Julian's cell.
For a long time fan of Julian and her spirituality, this was a very enjoyable novel. It managed to avoid the almost inevitable didactic tone I'd feared it might slip into and there was a good balance between historical explanation and exploration of the relevance of Julian's words today.
My only criticism worth sharing is that for someone who comes to this book without any sympathy towards a faith-based world view, there is a risk that the 'coincidences' that the plot relies upon may seem implausible enough to make the story appear too contrived. For those with an open mind or an active faith of some kind, these 'coincidences' add to the central themes of the book and strengthen the concept that nothing happens entirely by chance.
I also confess that the finding of a mysterious journal appealed enormously to me, given that this is one of my own dreams. It's an intriguing start to an agreeable and uplifting read.
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on 4 August 2013
This first class narrative engaged me in an intriguing portrayal of the heroine's very human life. It also held me at a deep level which I loved as it gave me a chance to look at and question my own beliefs and expand my own understanding.
A book that can be enjoyed on many levels.
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on 22 July 2014
Credit where it's due: if the basic aim of this book is to bring the writings of the fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich to a wider audience, then that is a worthy aim. Such is the level of ignorance and prejudice among even the reading public about the Christian tradition of spirituality, that an introduction, even at a fairly superficial level, may do some good. (Although the author greatly exaggerates the esoteric, 'underground' nature of Julian's thought: it has long been part of mainstream Catholicism. I have a book of 'catechism stories' from 1958 in which she is quoted approvingly, and her Revelations form the backbone of H. F. M. Prescott's erudite and profound 1952 novel The Man on the Donkey. But of course you have to flatter people that they are on to something new and different.) `New Age enthusiast for peace and love finds that she doesn't have to cross half the world to find a few congenial ideas: shock' might be the subtitle for our journalist heroine's extended autobiog piece.

The trouble is, it's so excruciatingly badly written. Reading it aloud was a perfect cringefest: between cardboard cut-out characters, info-dump dialogue, long-winded and gushing descriptions and an utterly predictable story, I soon abandoned the attempt in embarrassment, and just read the rest on my own. The book was a gift, so I felt I had to give it a chance. But you really wondered if the author had even bothered to read it over and use a red pen here and there before she turned it in.

The device of a dual narrative, where the main character finds their story partly mirrored in what they discover about an earlier character, is a time-honoured one and can be used to great effect if the two narratives contain unexpected parallels and revealing differences. But it can rarely have been used as disappointingly as here. It's just the same equally dull story told twice, in a framework of truly Victorian coincidences. The difficult childhood, the rackings of guilt and confusion, the caddish lover ... oh, yes, men are basically hollow, power-craving manipulators, except that you can have your morally superior cake and eat your romance too when one unexpectedly turns out to be the hero of your dreams, and you find an ideal happiness, only for events to take a tragic turn when ... but I won't trace what passes for the plot to its leaden conclusion: a few brave readers may still be wanting to find out for themselves.

The opening pages raise hopes of a thriller-style plot, with talk of whistle-blowers, illicit arms deals and journalistic skulduggery, but it turns out that real danger never threatens our heroine. The political action merely serves to introduce her to a lot of really nice, right-thinking people, none of whom are short of money; and in terms of column inches, the troubles of East Timor take a very poor second place to well-judged flower arrangements, beautifully renovated rural interiors and quality leather bindings. Never mind champagne socialism: this is aromatherapy socialism of the most suffocating kind.

What makes me angry is that this tosh gets published at all, at a time when it is more difficult than ever for new authors to break into print, when not only publishers but even agents righteously refuse to look at unsolicited manuscripts. How many writers with something genuine to say are languishing, gagged by obscurity, while glossy covers and laudatory reviews are lavished on fifth-rate tripe? How does Margaret Coles do it? Oh yes, of course, she's `a former Fleet Street and BBC journalist who now writes for the theatre'. She knows everybody!

Back-scratching? Nepotism? Oh darling, how could you say things like that! Of course we women don't carry on that way. It's just mutual support ... a helping hand! To the right kind of person, of course ...

Basically, a new age of patronage is upon us. Many factors are responsible - the slowing of economic growth, the decline of social mobility - but in the literary field, it's partly due to the abandonment of supposedly objective standards in the use of English and literary style. Ironically, these standards were dumped because they were too 'elitist' and 'exclusive'. So now writers are judged instead on their ability at self-promotion and 'impressing the right people'. We have progressed back to the early 1800s, but without the sense of 'noblesse oblige': from meritocracy to bulls***ocracy.
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on 30 July 2013
The Greening is one of those rare books that immediately connects on a deeper level as well as being a good story that demands to be picked up and read at every opportunity.It left me with an inner searching long after I had finished it,and continues to do so.At some point I will visit norwich and walk where Julian of norwich walked.
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on 12 March 2014
I heard about this book when Steve Wright interviewed the author on BBC Radio 2 and thought it sounded an intriguing read. I was wrong! As other reviewers have said, there is the germ of a good idea here but it is poorly executed. The different elements of the story don't hang together and the characters were flat and failed to gain either my sympathy or interest. I liked the idea of finding the missing journal of Anna Leigh, but to be honest it was so boring I wouldn't have bothered to read it. The dialogue. in particular, is dreadful.
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on 5 September 2014
Chic lit thinly disguised as a search for faith and meaning, and poorly written at that. My patience ran out very quickly. Don't bother with this nonsense. Go straight to the source and read the original Julian of Norwich
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on 28 March 2014
This had all the elements of a good read with spiritual philosophy thrown in for good measure, although not so overt as to be overwhelming. It certainly made me think more about the Universe and how it nudges us into the directions we need to go for our life path but all experienced through the events of a good story. A very enjoyable read.
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on 6 June 2013
Five very big stars for this brillant novel. Its a must buy must read book. The Greening by Margaret Coles is so good that it eeds wide spread media attention in all book magazines and newspapers. All book shops should be putting this novel on top of the list as a must read. All book shops should be displaying The Greening in their windows and selling it. The story is about Joanna a journalist for Trans global media coroporation when she gets told that a mole from the foreign office has lied about an arms deal. The mole has a secret illegitiment chils and thats what Trans global media Coroporation want Joanna to interview Dr Newell about. Joanna goes to The Antiquarian book shop in Charing Cross Road to buy a book of a Policical biography of a nineteenth centry life of Disraeli as apresent. By chance Joanna stumbles upon a book with a burgundy leather cover and a silver clasp called Anna Liegh's Journal, that is full of a diary of personal confessions. Joanna starts to read the Journal and sets out to find out more about Anna Leigh's life. More of my book revies are on ireadnovels wordpress com. Happy reading to all.
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on 21 April 2014
chose this book out of the blue. I found statements read and heard many times before were given different insight and understanding for those seeking to come to terms with some of the ideas. The storyline was very human and easy to read as teachings within a story.I am now interested to know more of Julian as I had not come accross her before. Whatever the level of understanding you are at I would recommend you read this book.
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on 3 July 2013
The Greening starts in 1991 and ends in the new millennium. It tells the story of Joanna, a journalist who finds both her personal life and her ethics to be in increasing conflict with her job.

The setting of the novel makes good use of the author's own background and experiences in Fleet Street and reflects much of the development of news stories over the period in which the novel is set. Joanna's assignment to a harrowing story involving a whistleblower in large Pharmaceuticals company results in a personal moral dilemma - her affair with a married, prominent politician closely involved with the news story, prompts her eventual change of direction. The major inciting incident is, however, her (apparently) chance discovery of a fairly recent journal belonging to the mysterious Anna, a lonely writer and actress suffering a breakdown brought on by a destructive affair with a married man. This is one parallel with Joanna's own life, but what really draws Joanna into Anna's world is Anna's account of her growing fascination with the life of Julian of Norwich. Julian was a 14th Century mystic who spent much of her life as an anchoress in Norwich and whose writings about the true meaning of religion were heretical in her own time. Joanna starts a quest to discover the identity of Anna and, increasingly, of Julian.

Margaret Coles very skilfully weaves the varied strands of the story to bring them together in unexpected ways. These strands include events in East Timor and the heroic struggles by journalists and freedom fighters to publicise the atrocities taking place, a believable account of life in a newspaper office and an unexpected reunion with an old romance from Joanna's University days - a man whose own story connects powerfully with her quest. Joanna continues to discover connections with Julian's writings through new friendships, one with a charismatic activist and writer, Ismene Vale, another with Sister Eleanor, a nun who helps Joanna understand the meaning of Julian's message. All in their different ways provide another level of connection to Anna and Julian.

The strength of this novel is that the narrator, Joanna, as a journalist working on real stories, retains a degree of scepticism. At the same time, the parallels with her personal crises and desperate need for change draw her in emotionally and both aspects give her a strong motive to find Anna. A personal tragedy that temporarily derails her search eventually leads her back to it.

Joanna remains troubled at the way in which Anna's journal has prematurely terminated, leaving no hint of what happened to her. The two stories increasingly complement each other, becoming more compelling as the tension builds. The author maintains a sense of detachment in the narrative voice. Joanna describes her feelings but her voice retains authority and calm, so the narrative doesn't fall into the trap of unnecessarily over-dramatising events.

Joanna refers to her own troubled and lonely past and the search is as much for her own peace of mind as it is for Anna. The resolution of Anna's mystery is shocking and entirely unexpected, but in spite of the story being told in first person and Joanna's own eventual breakdown being entirely convincing, there is a sense of a distance in time, something which adds, rather than detracts, from its appeal. Only in the final chapter does the narrative move into present tense, hinting that the character has arrived at some resolution, but there is still a way to go.

The novel's greatest strength is the way in which it seamlessly merges contemporary reality with history and fiction. Even minor characters are well-drawn and believable and some are allowed to pass through in the way that people actually do, serving the story without unnecessary exposition or distraction. This novel should appeal to those interested in its general spiritual aspect, in the element of mystery in a realistic setting as well as the actual history of Julian. Excellent
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