A mysterious curate arrives one dark and stormy night to succor the populace—in this dryly comic tale by British novelist Mantel (The Giant, O’Brien, 1998, etc.).
First published in England in 1989, Fludd takes place in Fetherhoughton, a sorry post-industrial town on the moors where petty animosities and pervasive ill-humor hold sway. Father Angwin, the priest, is a decent man, though by 1956 he's long since given up believing in God and goes through the motions of his office only in hopes that his congregation may still benefit. His bishop’s request that all the statues of saints be removed from Angwin's church results in a crisis, which the priest ineffectively resolves by burying the figures. He then settles deeper into his despair, but a knock on his door, which opens to reveal the sodden and peculiar figure of Fludd, also reveals a way to his redemption. Fludd has a strange effect on everyone he meets: Angwin, who immediately confesses the whole of his disbelief, feels a load lifted, which enables him to act decisively; the priest’s spinster housekeeper, Agnes Dempsey, finds a warmth spreading through her that makes her hopeful once again; and when Fludd reads the palm of the town convent’s youngest member, Irish Sister Philomena, she awakens to new possibilities in life—possibilities that she’d never dared dream of. But along with his quiet miracles, Fludd brings a hefty measure of unease, since no one can remember exactly what he looks like when he's not around, and he seems to eat and drink without actually chewing or swallowing. At the close, he performs the one act that will set them all free, and then, like the true conjurer he is, has a final trick up his sleeve just for Sister Philomena.
Witty, offbeat, insightful regarding the trials of Catholicism without bogging down in dogma: a lightly weighted but charming vision of alchemy's noblest endeavors.