Book reviews, C.S. Lewis, Muriel Barbery

C.S. Lewis Book Reviews

These past two weeks I’ve been several days at the hospital with my oldest. Thanks God, she’s now doing fine, just resting lots after a full 14 days of fighting a nasty case of viral meningitis that got a bit complicated because of lumbar procedure done initially, and the challenging headaches she went through.

We went to hospital twice, first time from Sunday to Tuesday, last time from Friday to last Monday.  I was able to finish The Great Divorce, part of the first reading duet my friend Kim and I chose for September. The other book along with it is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but, even though I love it, I had to leave it for a while, since I was getting a bit down on my second hospital stay, and the book did not help at the time with the gloomy mood. My daughter was doing better, but maybe because she and we all had been so long at this, with her in pain, and we unable to do anything, I couldn’t muster the strength to read about Francie’s dad and family for a while.

As a change, I picked this book, The Life of Elves, and I’m so lucky, this book is right up my alley. I thought I’d like it, but, page 58, and I’m loving it, so much I don’t want it to end. This year I’ve been extremely fortunate with my book choices. I have read the author’s two other books, Gourmet Rhapsody and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and I truly enjoyed them. But this one is more magical, both literally and literary.

I’m very fortunate that Barbery’s books are translated into Spanish. She’s a French writer, born in Morocco, but her parents left Morocco when she was only two months old. I could and do read books in English all the time, but when a book has rich and poetic language, it sips a layer deeper if I can read it in Spanish.

The Life of Elves, I feel it as a child of George MacDonald’s Phantastes, the old fairy tales, -Grimm, the snow-, and Ishiguro’s Buried Giant only a bit less ‘buried’ prose, 🙂

And now, the review of The Great Divorce.

This was a wonderful book to read. How would heaven be? Who’d be there, in what shape, form, state of mind? We all assume anyone in her senses would say she wants to go to heaven upon passing from this life, right? Wrong. We prepare for heaven right now, while on earth. If you haven’t thought about what heaven involves, C.S. Lewis will bring that to life in this allegoric book. His opening premise is sobering. We can take nothing from hell into heaven. It’s either or. We know that yet we fail to see The Great Divorce between hell and heaven. Hell is sin, or sin means hell, and inasmuch as we hold on to sin (minor or major), our souls won’t be ready to meet Him nor the saints who inhabit heaven.

Reminiscence of his Pilgrims Regress, which points to Pilgrims Progress, C.S. Lewis presents us with characters and dialogues that embody those attitudes and sins we all are guilty of, making us aware of hidden sin, of unexamined faults. Some characters make us laugh, we are not that bad, for sure, they are not christians, listen to them! And little by little, others who we don’t see as flagrantly missing the mark, make an appearance, and we gulp when we see ourselves reflected in those sinful attitudes that we condone as a society, faults that are excused and disguised as love, pain, concern, worry… But don’t dismay, don’t think he’s Mr. Preachy, taking us to a stylish guilt trip. That’s not C.S. Lewis. Some of those characters you meet in the book don’t get it, but some do. We see the bad and ugly, and we also see the beautiful and hopeful.

An Experiment in Criticism.

When I read my friend Kelly’s post in which she quoted from this book, I wanted to read it too. At the time I could not bear to make the expense to buy it, -it felt wrong to have other C.S. Lewis titles to read and buy one more book. But I did some babysitting in the summer, and I got a gift card for books! yay! I ordered the rest of the Flavia de Luce books for my oldest who adores them, and I got this one for me. I’m very glad I bought this book. When I read the introduction to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the author comments how she received lots of letters, many by people claiming that she wrote their book, ha! I cannot claim that C.S. Lewis wrote my book, he is up there, and we are down here, miles from his mind and ability, but I recognized many of my small thoughts reflected inside his huge thoughts. As always with me and C.S. Lewis, or me and Chesterton and other titan thinkers, there’s places in the book when I get lost, but happy lost, because I latch to the next sentence or paragraph, and my heart sings again, and my mind, my soul, is very happy to be fed those great ideas it encounters.

Don’t be intimidated at.all. C.S.Lewis is difficult, yes, because he is very thorough, but he is also very approachable. You’ll get the premise of this book right away. It’s simple. His defense is rich, but even if you miss parts of it, you’ll still know what you are reading about. C.S. Lewis is trying to define and distinguish between literary readers, and the unliterary. Traditionally (I guess, I have not read literary critics myself, but that’s what I gather from the book and what my instinct tells me), critics are always drawing the line between good books and bad books, between good literature and badly written books. They focus on the printed work. C.S. Lewis has a new and different approach, he’s after defining what good reading, or literary reading looks like, and what doesn’t. If a book doesn’t render itself to good reading, it will then be a bad book. However, he leaves open the possibility that, a book we find unsuited for a literary reading, can be read literary by someone else. But hold your horses, this doesn’t place the issue in the realm of taste. He claims that there are literary readers who read in a distinctive way, and if one is an unliterary reader, his book of choice cannot thus be defended as a book that renders itself to a literary reading.

My thoughts I’m sure appear more confusing than reading the book itself would be for you. I can only say that C.S. Lewis doesn’t give us clear cut rules to judge books or readers as good, bad, literary or unliterary. He gives us coordinates to understand this concept of literary reading and books that aid us in this type of reading. I also appreciate the fact that he doesn’t place any superior moral value to the literary readers. He’s simply trying to make an honest plea and give forth an explanation to this act of reading that transcends reading as a utilitarian practice, a practice aimed to obtain something (even if noble), and to speak about the act and art of literary reading, which is more a place to be than a thing to get. And that literary reader type of person to be, should not entertain any feelings of superiority of any kind, literary reading is at the reach of young children too, we should not attach to it any particular social ranking or status. It’s something noble to pursue, something that does this,

“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.”

This was a book that stretched my mind while I was able to enjoy it too, a book I’ll revisit.


6 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis Book Reviews”

  1. Wow, I'm sorry to hear what Miss N went through, and you too, Mama! I hope she's feeling better.

    You picked out my favorite quote from Experiment. That's a book I feel like I need to read every few years as long as I'm teaching. I'd say “every year” but I'm a slow reader. I'm definitely going to listen to this lecture by Angelina Stanford every year, which is essentially a summary of Lewis's book.


  2. Thanks, Kelly. It was a very trying time, but the Lord is good.

    I'm going to look into buying and listening to that lecture. I agree with you, it's a book worth reading every year or whenever possible.


  3. Trust everything is getting back to normal for you and your girl. So hard when children are ill. I remember something from the Great Divorce but not exactly – something about a woman grumbling so much she became a grumble…??


  4. Thanks, Carol.

    The woman you remember was Robert's wife. She was a nag, she said she forgave, but couldn't forget, thus she couldn't feel at home in heaven.


  5. I agree with your review of The Great Divorce. It served to remind me that death is certain for everyone but heaven is certain for the saved. Praying for the lost should be a high priority, is what I've been challenged with 🙂 Glad you've had time to read in between your trials…I'm sure the time will come for you to return to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It is a hard book to read but I'm finding pockets of hope within the pages. Hugs to you!


  6. Kim, I am ready to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it was just a few days I couldn't. Now that everyone is back to normal, I am looking forward to reading more. It's a special book.


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