The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale

Let’s be honest, I bought it for the cover.  Well look at it, it is gorgeous.  I had been given the poster and just had to check out the book,  I took it home and the lovely cover lured me in when I should have been reading worthy bookclub books – oh sometimes I do struggle with these, check the books page later, I’m about to dump another one.

This is one of those books which tells two parallel stories.  The first is about Daniel Kennedy, Zoology professor.  He and his beloved Nancy, the woman he loves but who will not marry him, are in a plane crash and as Daniel – who is quite the man – swims to save the survivors he has a vision, an angel type figure appears and he eventually reaches safety.  I loved this part of the book, I thought it beautifully written and very exciting during the plane crash part, you know it is coming but it is very punchy when it does.  Alongside this story is the story of Andrew Kennedy, Daniel’s Great Grandfather, Nancy has been asked by Daniel’s father to translate some letters of his which date from the First World War at Passchendaele. This is a great storyline, kept me guessing until the ‘big reveal’.

The story swaps between these two stories Andrew and his life on the front during the war, and Daniel and his life.  This book is very complex, it keeps wandering around the characters.  There are big philosophical questions, what is an angel, the quest of Daniel’s supposed friend for a lost symphony, and Daniel’s other friend’s search for love.   Overall there is the guilt of having survived when others have died, the fight for life above all else, and the overwhelming love for family regardless of fault.  It is a great book, such a lot going on, a couple of things a little unresolved, but certainly I enjoyed every bit of it.

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4 comments

  1. Good review – which helped me design these discussion questions that might suit other book clubs considering this book, which has had mixed reviews:

    Here goes:

    The Blasphemer Discussion Questions
    1. Comment on the effectiveness of the device of two parallel stories.
    [(i) The story about Daniel Kennedy, Zoology professor, a plane crash, rescue and the vision…
    (ii) the story of Andrew Kennedy, Daniel’s great grandfather, as revealed through translated letters from First World War.

    2. What is an angel? Where are the angels in this story?

    3. What is the significance of Daniel’s documentary series title, The Selfish Planet? How does this fit with Daniel’s overwhelming love for his daughter Martha?

    4. Cowards and heros …What is the nature of courage and redemption through altruism as explored in this book?

    5. Themes of guilt ….
    (i) the guilt of having survived when others have died,
    (ii) having created a child with a severe medical condition…
    (iii) God versus Darwin theme, and shoving Nancy aside during the crash? (not ‘cowardly enough’ as suggested in one review?)
    (iv) a soldier’s affair with an older French woman and his other responsibilities to his regiment, (the Shropshire Fusiliers)

    6. Rank these conflicts from the novel from best to worst – which should be scrapped, which could be bettered, and how?
    (i) Conflict between science and belief,
    (ii) The existence of angels,
    (iii) The gulf of incomprehension between men and women,
    (iv) Between men who have been to war and those who have not,
    (v) The rise of radical Islam and
    (vi) The existence of an alternative opening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

    7. Can inanimate objects like Mahler’s 9th Symphony really change lives? Does using devices like this to connect generations render this book clumsy?

    8. Who is your favourite character – and why? Who is redundant, and should have been edited out? – and why?

    1. Thanks for posting these questions. Our book club are reading the Blashphemer this month and it is my job to find suitable questions. We will be using these. . . ,.

  2. Thanks for all this. So much to think about. When I have shared the book with a few more people these points will make for a great discussion. B

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