Set in an ecclesiastical environment just before WW2, the fabric of this story is woven around an exploration of the both the psychology of power within the Church of England and the importance of personal integrity in the Church ministry. I loved it.
The story opens as Charles Ashworth is sent on a spying mission by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Is all as it should be in the household of the Bishop of Starbridge? Charles is himself on the edge of crisis and as certain things in the Bishop's household conspire to send him over the edge, all manner of secrets and repressed feelings are exposed and explored. As the story develops the term 'Glittering Image' comes to refer to the need for a person to present a brilliant exterior to the world at the expense of being honest about their relationships with themselves and their relationships with others.
Despite the ecclesiastical backdrop and the apparently heavy subject matter, this is not heavy reading. It is, however, very thought provoking. As Charles Ashworth moves further into personal crisis, he seeks spiritual counselling and the dialogue between him and his spiritual counsellor was for me, some of the most compelling in the book. With all the appearance of flippancy, Susan Howatch manages to convey some subtly important messages. Definitely a book to shout about.
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