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The Short Day Dying    by Peter Hobbs order for
Short Day Dying
by Peter Hobbs
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

The year is 1870, and young Charles Wenmouth, the narrator of the highly recommended The Short Day Dying, wants to tell you something of his life, his faith, and his problems. In his unique, rather untutored way of speaking - filled with candor, anxiety, and passion - Wenmouth talks about his experiences as a Methodist lay preacher in rural southwest England:

'I have been to the empty houses of the Lord I have seen his home made barren and held to ridicule the jewels that man may find in there gone to gather dust and the Book unopened though it contain such wisdom. I have known the Word of the Lord speak through me though it echoes in the emptiness with none to hear it none to listen. Time is pressing. Twenty-seven years are gone from me at least twenty I must surely be able to remember what has passed around me. It has been so short. Yet half my life is lost and my youth is already distant I forget what it were to be a child and the forgetting is as painful as grief.'

And then Wenmouth asks, 'What have the days amounted to?'

All that follows in Peter Hobbs' incredibly beautiful novel is the powerful answer to young Charles Wenmouth's ostensibly rhetorical question.

Wenmouth's intense Christian faith - reminiscent of the faith found in the poetry of the priest, teacher, and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins - and Wenmouth's love of Nature - reminiscent of William Wordsworth's poetic sensibilities - have, in harmony with his love of family and friends, sustained the young man for all of his days. Now, however, when we join Wenmouth at the outset of The Short Day Dying, the apprentice minister has been surrounded by pervasive poverty, relentless disease, and premature death. As he travels throughout the countryside of Cornwall, attending to the sick and helping the poor, Wenmouth finds that he has become increasingly discouraged as churches in rural Cornwall have become nearly empty shells with few parishioners. Despite the many earthly problems, Wenmouth draws private inspiration and strength from his friendship with a young blind girl, Harriet French, who steadfastly maintains piety and patience in spite of her illness. However, when Wenmouth learns of Harriet's death, he finds that his grief and pain overwhelmingly threaten to destroy his faith. As Wenmouth's crisis of faith deepens, his personal odyssey - physical, emotional, and spiritual - will take him to a point near the end of The Short Day Dying wherein he wonders, 'Where is the soul that binds this life together?'

And what is the answer to that question? Wenmouth's answer is the thematic core of Peter Hobb's exquisitely haunting novel. Written in a lithe, lyrical style influenced by the Bible, William Blake, and Thomas Hardy, The Short Day Dying also has an ambitious modern (post-modern?) quality that will also remind readers of William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Flannery O'Connor. The succinct bottom line, however, is this: The Short Day Dying is a must-read novel that readers will not soon forget.

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