12 April 2015

The Meeting Point, by Lucy Caldwell

I know what it is like to be a keen young deacon in the Anglican Church. I also know what it is like when your faith slowly withers and dies, losing all relevance. Euan is a young Anglican deacon from Ireland, who accepts a brief posting to the Anglican community of Bahrain, with his wife Ruth and their young daughter Anna. This is shortly before the outbreak of the Second Gulf War.

When Ruth discovers that her husband has not revealed the full extent of his mission, she finds herself—emotionally at least—all but alone in Bahrain, and her faith begins to crumble. She meets a troubled young teenager, Noor, who has moved from England to Bahrain with her Muslim father, following a serious incident at her school. Noor becomes involved with Ruth and her husband, looking after young Anna at every opportunity. Ruth also meets Noor’s cousin, Farid, nineteen years old.

The story is told exclusively from the intimate point of view of Ruth and Noor. Other characters come and go, but none take centre stage. Everything is viewed and lived through the eyes of Ruth and Noor. This is their emotional, spiritual and psychological journey.

Those who are looking for action and adventure should not turn to this book. There is tension and even suspense here, but the essential story takes place inside the minds of these two characters. What happens is much less important than their response to it. There is surprisingly little external dialogue here, but a great deal of internal dialogue and introspection. This will not appeal to everyone. Some readers may become irritated with these characters, perhaps Ruth in particular, because of their poor judgement and questionable decisions. Nevertheless I felt that there was some real honesty and insight here.

There are some grammatical issues that I thought the editors at Faber and Faber might have addressed. I am used to seeing such things in self-published books—comma splices, mismatched subject and verb, misplaced commas—but I would have expected a more exacting standard here. The author also slips sometimes between past and future tenses. I can understand why for literary reasons an author might decide to adopt the present tense at times—to create a particular sense of immediacy perhaps—but the reasons here were not immediately obvious.

I found the ending satisfactory, with loose ends tied up. I was particularly interested in how Ruth’s character and spirituality developed. While at times I thought it might develop into such, this was not an apology for Anglicanism or any other version of the Christian faith. Again there was a certain truth and honesty here.

Some will simply be bored with this book. I enjoyed it, even though the introspection may at times be a little overdone. I also enjoyed it—perhaps—because I had a view from the inside. I give this four stars.