Monday, 10 January 2011

The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale

The Blasphemer is one of those novels which starts off great but unfortunately started to fall apart for me and was completely unravelled by the end.

The main character Daniel Kennedy is a scientist and quite the aggressive atheist (think Richard Dawkins aggressive) David takes his partner and the mother of his child on a trip to the Galapagos Islands and while there, their small sea plane crashes into the sea. It is while swimming to shore in order to save his fellow passengers that David sees a vision. Was this vision a mere symptom of his fatigue and stress or a guardian angel?

While that plot line is interesting enough, running parallel to this is the story of Daniel’s great-grand father and his experiences in World War I as he prepares to go over the top on the first day of the fighting at Passchendaele.

The novel starts promisingly enough and there are some really good ideas. The World War I scenes are quite good (but not a patch on Birdsong) and I liked the whole concept of the scientist atheist coming across something he is unable to explain. There are so many good ideas and different plot threads but unfortunately they did not always gel together well enough with some plot elements not working sufficiently well.

There is a bizarre Muslim terrorist sub-plot which has no reason at all to be in the novel and is never concluded. The only Muslim character in the book is a teacher who is being trailed by the police for no reason at all and, by the polices own admission, the guy has done nothing wrong. I just found this really unnecessary and out of place.

Then there is Daniel’s work colleague Weatherby; a devout Christian with an evil streak taken to almost comical proportions (think sleazy professor who likes to sleep with his students, which has been done a million times before) and seems intent on ruining Daniels life for no reason whatsoever.

Religion and belief is a big theme in the novel and Daniel has quite a few religious debates throughout the novel with both Wetherby (who is a professor) and his best friend (who is a doctor.) But despite these three grown men having highly professional intelligent careers, the ‘debates’ never go beyond ‘well you’ve never seen Greenland so how do you KNOW that exists’. Honestly! That’s the kind of religious debate a child would have – with another child.

Finally I quite like happy endings I really do. But not when the author has to make the plot more and more convoluted within the last 40 pages in order to get there.

Well yes I have a lot of bad to say about this one (believe me;I could have gone on) but I did read to the end because the plot was interesting and I did want to see how it all ended. It wasn't as bad as I have made out in this review but two days after I have finished reading it I am unable to remember any of the novel's stronger points.

Overall it did engage me but ultimately it could have been better executed.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I hate it when a book doesn't live up to its potential.

  2. While I appreciate and understand your critiques of the book. I rather liked this book. I found the tension between faith and reason to be profound.

  3. I think my experience reading your review must've been similar to your experience reading the book. I started out thinking I'd like the book, but now it just sounds like a bit of a mess.

  4. I loved this book! I agree that the terrorist section was unnecessary and should have been removed. I also agree that there were far too many different things going on and that the book would have worked much better if it had been simplified, but the overall plot did work well for me and I found it gripping throughout. So many of the different elements were thought provoking that I didn’t mind their presence. I think this is a fantastic book, purely for the number of different things that you can talk about – one of the best book club choices ever!

    I also had an emotional connection to all the characters – something that rarely happens, especially in a book with this many different threads. I still think about it almost a year on. I think you might too ;-)

  5. I've been picking this one up and putting it down again so many times lately - time to bite the bullet and go for it! I'll make it my next read and see if we have similar opinions, thank you for the review, Jessica.

  6. I've downloaded this as a free ebook without knowing what it was about. I must say, I'm not keen on religion and religious discussions but I'll give it a try anyway.

  7. I actually really want to read this one. It's a shame it didn't live up to your expectations though.

  8. La Coccinelle - think I'm just one of those ppl that hates a book as soon as it gets a little 'Hollywood' for me. Other ppl have loved this though but yeah disappointing.

    Donovan - I know I am in the minorty on my thoughts with this one. Perhaps its because Ive grown up in a religious household where my father has a degree in theology, I've heard every religious/reason arguement going so the book offered nothing new for me in that respect.

    Zara - haha thats how it felt!

    Jackie - yeah I'm sure I will think about it in a years time, but for the wrong reasons ;) nah I did not at any point think of putting this book down (and I often do) so there must have been something in the text that kept me engaged but was just dappointed at the end.

    Teresa - most ppl have loved this so you may well think I'm potty after you've finished it - but I'd be interested to see.

    leeswammes - the religious arguements are only a small part of the novel so don't worry about that. Thats a great freeby though, its only just come out on paperback.

  9. I loved this book too and agree with Jackie. The plot may have had some unnecessary elements and have been rushed towards the end, but I was totally engrossed.

  10. I wonder why books often feel the need to insert unnecessary side-plots. This book seems like it has a lot going on as is, what with two parallel stories (a technique I've grown to dislike for the way it's often poorly executed) and all the other drama going down. It seems like a good edit could have made it better, just by weeding out the badly plotted moments and the unnecessary bits.

  11. Sounds like a bit too much going on at once in this one...

  12. Ciao and best wishes for 2011, I am back at last catching up on so much that I missed while I was away from the blogsphere!

    Now this title is on my 2011 wishlist, the question is after reading this review should it stay there?