GODRIC by Frederick Buechner

GODRIC

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KIRKUS REVIEW

According to history, England's St. Godric was an extraordinarily long-lived hermit (1065-1170) known for powers of precognition and healing. According to Buechner (whose theologically-tinged novels include the zesty Leo Bebb series), Godric's holiness was inextricably bound up with his guilty sinfulness--and here, in a familiar but workable format, the aged Godric heaps comic scorn on his worshipful would-be monk-biographer (""Fetch me a bowl to puke in"") and insists on Telling It Like It Was. In the crusty ancient's retelling, young Godric, son of an overworked farmer, takes off from home early, leaving behind brother William (a talkative fool) and sister Burcwen (whose loving feelings seem rather more than sisterly). He peddles the hair of nuns at fairs, then sells phony relics--supposedly bearing the blood of a new ""Christian martyr"" (the martyr was in fact killed by Yorkshiremen who mistook him for a Jew). And though Godric meets St. Cuthbert on the holy isle of Fame and vows to do good henceforth, he is soon instead sailing the seas with Capt. Roger Mouse, robbing (in pirate disguise) the religious pilgrims whom they're transporting. Another stab at penance--a pilgrimage to Rome (disappointing) with his mother--leads to a vision of beautiful Gillian (""Repent and mend your ways""); but earthly ambitions resurface as Godric plays steward to a great (and foul) lord, then joins up again with the charismatic Mouse on a voyage East. This time, however, Godric can't go along with the pilgrim-bilking, and he washes his sins away in the river Jordan: thereafter, he sees visions, has powers over animals (two snakes are his best friends), devotes himself to church service. Yet even in his hermitage sin intrudes: the incestuous passion for sister Burcwen is consummated at last. . . and leads to the accidental death of brother William (who has become totally dependent on his sister): ""So. . . when you come to write down Godric's sins, be sure, although he struck no blow himself, to set down murder with the rest."" Far from profound--the central irony of the unsaintly ""saint"" is clear from the start and hardly develops--but Buechner's rough, rhythmic voicings are shrewdly varied (Godric narrates in both first and third person), and the thoroughly homely, direct presentation of such a distant past is arresting enough to maintain interest through this brief, episodic study in spirituality's dark underside.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Atheneum