A novel that explores questions of faith and politics on the small scale of a provincial village.
Dempster’s accomplished debut novel opens with an arresting, memorable scene: Ordinary, level-headed villager Frank Dole sets out for his usual early morning of surf-fishing, only to be surprised by what strikes him at first as a mirage: “Illusion—perfect illusion, bordered by a finely rounded horizon and a spinning disk of azure sea beneath a milk-glass dome.” It’s a beautiful young woman sleeping on a green blanket amidst the dune-grasses, and although Frank is initially stunned, he eventually approaches her for a brief conversation. Still slightly dazed, Frank walks to the nearby village and encounters familiar residents such as Marian Proctor (“a fisherman’s widow for more years than anyone could remember”) and postmaster Matt Pardoe along the way. (The author has impressively worked out the village’s layout, architecture and disparate characters in satisfying detail.) Mainly, however, Frank admonishes himself “for never having asked her name....Something, some tacit understanding, had obviated the exchange of names, and the brief encounter seemed none the worse for it.” Dempster juxtaposes the village and the nearby town (home to four thousand people) with the titular chapel on the moor, which was created a century earlier at the behest of preacher Matthew Fox. The preacher brought it about by lecturing his fellow villagers in charismatic tones; according to one of the more embellished versions of the story, he bellowed, “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to live and to work together....How much more so, I ask you, to pray, to pray together in unity?” The chapel on the moor acts as a cynosure for Dempster’s entire narrative about faith, which soon enough reunites Frank with his mystery woman. This enigmatic character seems clearly otherworldly, and her attendant mysteries—and the author’s often quite beautiful prose—engagingly drive the story along.
An elegant, surprisingly elegiac novel about the imposition of faith on the concrete world.