A deadly dull effort.
Rees, an Oxford-educated Catholic nun, has hopped on the Celtic bandwagon and introduced readers to saints like Patrick (a Brit who was captured by Irish pirates and so taken with Ireland that he stayed on to evangelize the locals), Cuthbert (the Bishop of Lindisfarne who founded a monastery at Ripon with his abbot Eata and eventually became a hermit), and Columba (the “Dove of the Church,” who hailed from royal Irish blood but wanted to be a monk from his youth). Unfortunately, Rees’s writing is so dense—imagine the most impenetrable academic tome—that it takes a determined reader to unearth the tidbits that usually make saints’ lives an engaging read. In the last few pages, Rees gestures towards a compelling argument—one that, had she fleshed it out, would have explained the book’s subtitle: Irish monks said they lived lives of “exile for Christ.” They felt bound to no particular patch of earth, but wandered far and wide to spread the Gospel. An inspiring model, perhaps, had Rees decided to devote more than a few paragraphs to it; but the stories Rees tells earlier contradict the conclusions she dashes off about Christians who “wandered lovingly” around the Celtic world. Sure, they may have pastored in three or four different places, but these saints’ lives were devoted to building institutions—and monasteries, churches, and communities are not the stuff of roving evangelists. Even had she made a more logically compelling argument, it is doubtful that many would have been moved by her uninspired and uninspiring prose; Rees can turn even the most fiery story of faith into a desiccated account that will motivate the reader to do little more than switch on his TV.
The only passion to be found here is in the title.