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Anglican Expereince from the Inside
on 21 March 2014
Archbishop is a 'big' book in several senses. It is long, it goes deep, and it is not afraid to tackle some very significant themes. Michelle Guinness takes her intriguing central premise - the appointment of our first female Archbishop of Canterbury - and sets it in the context of a church engaged with its culture and rocked by political currents within and without. Not for her the tedious cycle of mumbled liturgies read from dusty prayer books. This is very definitely a contemporary portrait.
The strength of 'Archbishop' is that Guinness knows her stuff. She has lived the vicarage experience from the inside, and has been both a champion and an observer of the empowerment of women over several decades. As a history of that process, exploring the inner machinations of the Anglican Communion, the book is unparalleled. These are the soundings of an authentic and reliable witness.
The weaknesses of the book are in the writing. The technique of building the plot through back-story is sustained throughout, with a constant switching between present events and remembered episodes. If this approach works for you, you'll be sustained in your reading: for me it became quite quickly wearing, and I lost track of the timeline more than once. In the always difficult balance of show vs tell, there is more tell than show, and this slows what could have been a rivetting read.
In a market flooded with plot-driven page-turners that care little for authenticity and will do anything to keep you reading, it is refreshing to find a novel so evidently determined to tell the truth. For readers who need a strong plot to keep their attention alive, though, Archbishop may just be too slow and meandering a journey.
Gerard Kelly, author of 'The Whole Sky'