EXHIBITION OF THE YEAR
IT IS probably the Louvre’s ’Raphaël, Les dernières années.’ Back home, it has not been a vintage year, though a number of shows were well worth the ticket price. Of these, the generous loans from the Clark provided a mix of typical French nineteenth-century painting with same atypical Renoirs, i.e. fine observation without the sentimentality, a vivid Degas self-portrait, and one of Manet’s last paintings, Moss Roses.
Size matters in exhibitions and the few really great pictures in this show were not swamped so it was possible to give them the time and concentrated looking they deserved. The self-proclaimed big show was ‘David Hockney R.A.: A Bigger Picture.’ There was too much here and the industrial production was not always right for pictures of the British countryside. But afterwards I was irritated to see hedges blossoming like Hockney canvasses, so he clearly has a point.
Lucian Freud was Hockney’s coeval and as a German one of the great British painters who made International Art once more international and not merely American. The extensive show of his human portraits was London’s highlight in 2012. Like Rubens, Freud appreciated the painterly quality of mounds of flesh, though the succession
of his mistresses suggested a more conventional taste when it came to bed time. This was an unsettling show with a strong sense of Freud’s Expressionist roots overlain by his upper-middleclass milieu. The pictures were the result of intense looking and an intense love of the act of painting.
Other contemporaries of Hockney and Freud were shown at Haunch of Venison’s ‘10 Post-War British Painters.’ This was one of those good shows put on by private galleries. They are sometimes better value than the big shows, i.e. they are free, and because they are small they are good opportunities for a short, hard look. In fact, there are now in London so many of these galleries both large and small that it is difficult to keep pace with them.
This trend is part of changes in the art market. There are multiplying White Cubes. The big American brokerage style dealers Gagosian et al. are more and more prominent. And even if the price of Hirsts has come off the boil the London art market stands alongside New York as the go-to market for the contemporary non-dom Medici. As a result the great triumph of nineteenth-century art for all is being squeezed out by art for the oligarchs.
One of the fiercest commentators on this trend as it developed in Eighties New York was the great critic Robert Hughes who died this year. Hughes was one of the few people who wrote unputdownable and perceptive art criticism. His collected reviews, Nothing if not Critical, are a marvellous introduction to a whole range of artists, especially those of the last century. His television series The Shock of the New ranks alongside Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation as outstanding televisual lectures. Superficially the two men were radically different but they both cared about art. In Hughes’ honour the BBC showed The Shock of the New early morning on BBC 4. It is still one of the best introductions to modern art and why it is so different from the detail and comfort of traditional popular art.
Like fellow Australian Germaine Greer, Hughes was once a Catholic and his writing echoes with the loss of religion. Since the mid-nineteenth century less and less art has had a religious content. Among the major shows in London this year only ‘Bronze’ at the Royal Academy and the Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain featured religious work. ‘Bronze’ is a fine if overwhelming show where the religious art plays its role within a worldview which is lost to the modern artist. One of Hughes’ themes was how in the American Puritan tradition the insistence that art was only justified if it elevated the soul became an attempt to fill the space religion once had. This he thought was silly. Art cannot change mankind or even lead us on as the printed word can. It remains an important reflection of where and who we are and it provides decoration and sometimes solace. These are the important benefits of the culture of making but not even the late, great Rafaello Santi bestowed grace.
BOOKS OF THE YEAR
As Christmas approaches,
contributors to New Directions
offer their thoughts on the
best books of 2012
BAN THIS FILTH!
Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive Edited by Ben Thompson
Faber and Faber, 304pp, hbk
978 0571281497, £16.99
THIS BOOK reminds me of The Spiritual Quest of Francis Wagsta~e, the satirical volume of correspondence between the great and the good of the Anglican establishment and the eponymous (but fictional) hero. The increasingly frustrated tone of the responses is similar, as is the printing of the letters in a mock-typewriter font, with the occasional printed image of original letters. But the crucial difference is that Mary Whitehouse, and her campaign, unlike that of Francis Wagstaffe, were real!
Skilfully edited (and with a commentary) by Ben Thompson, and based on the archive of Whitehouse materials in the University of Essex library, this book reminds us of the battles that Mary and her National Viewers and Listeners’ Association waged against all kinds of foes – real and imagined – which were ready to assault the decency of ordinary English folk from the Sixties onwards. Many of the issues raised are still strikingly relevant today – editorial independence and management responsibility at the BBC being a prime example. But some rest on the boundary between comical and sad –for example the protracted controversy over Top of the Pops playing Chuck Berry’s song ‘My Ding-a-Ling’. Whitehouse was a magnified example of what my grandfather used to call the old lady who complained about a man whistling a rude song. But that makes for a splendid read.
LESSONS IN A ROSE GARDEN
Reviving the Doctrinal Rosary
Aidan Nichols op Gracewing, 330pp, hbk
978 0852447901, £20
IN A year in which I have enjoyed definitive new biographies of Titian (by Sheila Hale) and Nelson (by John Sugden), together with Part II of Hilary Mantel’s (Thomas) Cromwellian trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, I am nevertheless going to nominate this work of dogmatic and devotional theology built around the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary: joyful, sorrowful, luminous and glorious. The book is everything we have come to expect and to cherish in Fr Nichols’ prodigious output: marked by Scriptural, patristic, medieval and more modern allusion, interweaving liturgical and systematic theology, and drawing on the great Tradition of both West and East (and including citations from not a few Anglicans). It is rich fare. The book is illustrated by colour plates, the reproduction is of good quality, and generous footnotes allow every reference to be easily pursued. Fr Nichols, in his introduction, hopes thathe book will be ‘an invitation not only to reflection but also to prayer’. In this ambition, he succeeds wholeheartedly.
COUNTING ONE’S BLESSINGS
The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
Edited by William Shawcross MacMillan, 524pp, hbk
978 0230754966, £25
THERE CAN be few people who have dominated our national life more than Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Following on from his excellent and vast biography of her, William Shawcross has now brought together a selection from her letters (in yet another vast, but very worthwhile volume). These letters range from those of the young girl Elizabeth excited about a holiday or a gift, to letters to the Queen and other members of the Royal Family as well as friends and well-wishers. The letters are well selected and offer a broad sweep of the Queen Mother’s life. They show her to be a kind, sympathetic and interested person. They are a joy to read and Shawcross should be congratulated on his selection: one can imagine this was no easy task. This is not necessarily a book to read cover to cover but rather one to have beside your chair over the Christmas holidays to dip into with a nice glass of Lochnagar whisky in your hand, or failing that a gin and Dubonnet! The Queen Mother had a style all of her own and it is a joy to delve even deeper behind the palace doors.
THE LION’S WORLD
A Journey into the Heart of Narnia Rowan Williams
SPCK, 128pp, pbk
Full review in October’s New Directions 978 0281068951
The Lion’s World is a concise and very accessible study of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia within the framework of their Christian message. In six simple sections Rowan Williams breaks down Lewis’ theology, keeping to a few choice topics. Subtitles include: ‘The Point of Narnia’, ‘Not a Tame Lion’, and ‘The Silent Gaze of Truth’. The book is beautifully put together. It is a colourful paperback in which we are, quite rightly, reminded that these are primarily children’s stories; each chapter is illustrated with original drawings by Monica Capoferri. This is Williams at his best. He is gifted with a lucid and intimate understanding of the workings of Lewis’ mind, which is expressed with a well-paced simplicity of written style not unlike Lewis’ own. Unfortunately too much effort is made to defend Lewis to his critics. At one point the conclusion is reached that ‘he does not have to be beyond fault to be admired or loved.’ It would be best left at this. Readers are guaranteed to come away eager to re-read The Chronicles of Narnia, and indeed the rest of Lewis’ oeuvre. Williams’ breadth of knowledge and affection for his work is certainly infectious. Emma Forward
MINISTRY WITHOUT MADNESS
SPCK, 192pp, pbk
Full review in July’s New Directions
978 0281063642, £9.99
I REVIEWED this book earlier in the year. I found that, while I could write about it in an objective way as a book on ministry, it also reminded me forcibly of things that I have experienced personally in my 41 years of being a priest.
It is refreshing to find a book which squarely faces the fact that there are times when we do ‘go mad’. We get ill. We get discouraged. We get exhausted. We simply ‘lose it’! Gordon Oliver has the honesty to speak about how hard it is to admit that things have gone wrong in the very place where you should expect support and understanding – the Church!
When I read the final chapter of this book, ‘Called to be fools’, I was reminded of a friend of mine who has risen to a high position in the Church. He has a slip of paper stuck to his shaving mirror. It simply reads, ‘Who do you think you are?’ A good question to reflect on for anyone who dares to exercise Christian ministry.
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Ebury Press, 320pp, hbk
978 0091943745, £27
THIS IS more than just another recipe book; this is a journey into the ‘culinary DNA’ of the city and people of Jerusalem. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi both call Jerusalem home but would in no way say that they enjoyed similar upbringings.
Meeting in London in 1997, they discovered a shared passion for the diverse cuisine and culture of their home city. In comparing their culinary, religious and ethnic heritage, they have created a recipe book that emphasizes the power of uniting diversity, even if this power is only manifested in the creation of the perfect hummus!
The recipes are categorized in simple chapters – vegetables, meat, fish, etc. – creating a ‘how to’ guide on all the elements of Middle Eastern cooking. Dishes perhaps sampled on pilgrimage to the Holy Land have been made accessible for the pilgrim to recreate on home soil, and the accompanying images make a great alternative to ‘holiday snaps’. Each recipe is lovingly described in the context of the authors’ childhoods making this book the ‘anecdotal icing on this cross-cultural cake’. The recipes in Jerusalem carry with them a deep-rooted emotional connection to ‘home’ and in reading, cooking and enjoying these recipes, you cannot help but feel like you are being transported into Yotam and Sami’s lives, their loves and their ‘Jerusalems’.
TAKE THE PLUNGE
Living Baptism and Confirmation
Timothy Radcliffe op Continuum, 312pp, pbk
978 1441118486, £10.99
THIS BOOK is written in the belief that ‘Christianity will only be strong if all the baptised people of God are strengthened, their vocation recognised and their creativity released’.
Timothy Radcliffe contributes to this aim with this book on the rites of Christian initiation.
He traces the course of the services during which the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Confirmation are administered, explaining the meaning of each part, its historical background and relevance today. Like a good preacher he uses anecdotes and illustrations on every page, which charm, amuse and move us. This is a book for everyone, not just clergy and academics.
The contemporary Roman Catholic services are followed but a few elements, such as the litany of the saints, are not found in other denominations. Increasing numbers of Anglican clergy are using the oil of Baptism and the oil of Chrism.
A few invite relations and godparents to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of those being baptized. Some begin the service at the entrance, then move to the font and finally lead the newly baptized to the altar with lighted candles and joyful singing. Such practices can help to bring out the meaning of what is being done but the really important need is to help people understand what Baptism means. Timothy Radcliffe’s book achieves this.
Crispin Harrison CR
‘GOTHIC FOR EVER’
A.W.N. Pugin, Lord Shrewsbury, and the Rebuilding of Catholic England
Spire Books, 342pp, hbk
Full review in July’s New Directions
978 1904965367, £49.95
MICHAEL FISHER’S luxurious study of Pugin is not primarily a biography of the great Gothic architect, nor is it primarily a study of his output in general. It is, rather, an examination of the relationship – sometimes strained, sometimes fraught, but always productive – between Pugin and the sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, and of the stunning architecture that emerged as a result. Shrewsbury became Pugin’s principal patron and benefactor, and through his financial support and Pugin’s industry, Staffordshire became known as ‘PuginLand’.
Indeed, the relationship between earl and architect was a real meeting of minds, and it enabled Pugin to manifest his belief that Gothic had a ‘powerful moral and spiritual dimension’, and that Gothic art and architecture had the power of assisting greatly in the conversion of England.
This large book is generously illustrated with black and white, and colour photographs of some of the finest of Pugin’s work. The text is clear and accessible. Finally, the sheer variety of subjects touched on here – architecture, biography, church history, theology, aristocracy, social history – means that all sorts of people would appreciate ‘Gothic for ever’ as an imaginative and enjoyable Christmas present!
A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN
Fourth Estate, 416pp, pbk
978 0007465088, £7.99
THE PERFECTLY Good Man of the title is a parish priest working in Cornwall. The chapters of the book are rather like snapshots of the principal characters. There is a chapter called ‘Barnaby at 52’ and another ‘Dorothy at 34’, a device which gradually draws the reader into this man’s story. He is far from the dull or too-good-to-be-true vicar of some novels. Gale portrays him as complex, humane and spiritual, and facing the ethical dilemmas of the modern secular age. The writer’s compassionate working of the problems of assisted suicide, drug abuse, same-sex relationships and the complexities of marriage and family life is gentle and allows the reader space to consider these things almost effortlessly as they are carried along by the narrative.
This is not a novel of harsh, gritty realism, but a realistic tale of the way life is. Gale is a consummate story- teller and his weaving together of the strands of the story leaves the reader wondering how it will all be resolved. This makes it difficult to put down. The last chapter which tells the story of eight-year-old Barnaby is poignant and as I closed the book I felt almost sad that it had ended.
THE POTTER’S FIELD
Mantle, £16.99, 288pp, hbk
A GREAT treat over the autumn has been to watch on BBC4 the Italian TV adaptations of Andrea Camilleris series of Sicilian detective novels featuring Commissario Montalbano, starring the perfectly-cast Luca Zingaretti. But a very much greater treat is to be had from the books themselves, even if one has to wait a year or so for each to be translated from Italian (mixed with Sicilian dialect) by American poet Stephen Sartarelli. This year’s was a gem.
A mixture of comedy, gastronomy (an antipasto di mare of ‘fresh anchovies cooked in lemon juice and dressed in olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley, savoury anchovies seasoned with fennel seeds, octopus salad and fried whitebait ’) and, of course, murder; brief appearances by Judas Iscariot and Padre Pio; the brooding presence of the Mafia, to say nothing of the protagonist’s absent (and far too demanding) girlfriend; all combine with Mediterranean sunshine to deliver a perfect dose of escapism – just right for the long British winter! One word of warning, though, before you rush out to buy this excellent book: it is number 13 in the series, and so you’ll have to be prepared to buy its twelve predecessors in order to feed what will easily become an addiction of which you can be proud!
THE DAY OF THE LIE
Little, Brown, 384pp, hbk
978 1408701874, £19.99
THE FOURTH in the series of the Father Anselm novels, this does not disappoint. If you enjoy a mystery unravelling with many twists and surprises, seen through the eyes of an ex-lawyer now turned Gilbertine monk living in rural England in the present day, this will be a treat.
An old friend seeks out Fr Anselm when as part of a truth and reconciliation process his past catches up with him. Investigations are being made into the Communist Junta of Warsaw in which he is implicated. ‘With a troubled humph, Father Anselm Duffy, jazzman, beekeeper and brooder upon life’s conundrums, put the phone down and turned away from glistening, tangled rooftops’.
The complex web of intrigue, complicity, optimism, idealism, cruelty and human desperation slowly unravels as Fr Anselm listens to those involved and teases out their stories. All through there is a deep sense of one who is himself searching for similar things. His holiness, that of a monk with a sense humour, wonderfully lets him walk with God through it all. It helps tremendously as he realizes that reconciliation is not going to be possible for all.
Archbishop in War and Crisis
I.B. Tauris, 320pp, hbk Full review to follow
978 1780763552, £25
ANGLO-CATHOLICISM’S FIRST Archbishop of Canterbury has had a bad press. Lockhart’s 1949 biography was inadequate, and subsequent pundits have maligned Lang – often simply retailing the un-evidenced assertions of others. Robert Beaken has now ridden to the rescue, with a portrait that is sympathetic without being uncritical, assesses Lang in the context of his time not the harsh light of hindsight, and rests on a prodigious amount of archival research. His highly readable book surveys Lang’s early life and personality, his archiepiscopate and his relations with the monarchy, before homing in on three crises: the Abdication (on which Lang had liturgical tensions following rejection of the 1928 Prayer Book, and the War.
Lang made three sustained but unsuccessful attempts to address Anglo- Catholic liturgical concerns. He lacked the ‘sustained pushfulness’ (and perhaps the power) to resolve the crisis, but at least contained it. In his late Seventies he was a hard-working and forward-looking wartime leader. He condemned deliberate bombing of civilians before Bell, called for Christians to address social need after the War before Temple, and engaged pastorally and judiciously with policy issues and individual concerns.
Lang’s fatal heart attack (aged 81) was caused by running for a bus. Fr Beaken reveals the reason: he was late for a date with an actress with whom he had been (platonically) besotted for over a decade. This should put paid to modern projections of (closeted) homosexuality onto a celibate whose loneliness was relieved by affectionate friendship with his chaplains.
LESS IS MORE
Spirituality for Busy Lives
Lion Hudson, 160pp, pbk
Full review in May’s New DirectioNs
978 0745955513, £7.99
LIFE IS to be spent, not bought or earned or hoarded. There is a battle between the ego which would possess the world and the soul or spirit which would take us to what is deep and lasting. Maybe because my ministry heads for glorious evening I enjoyed the challenge of Less is More to cultivate that world of the spirit and which breaks through the superficial identity gained through possessions, work social status, physical appearance, etc. We need poise before pose, Draper says. Filling less diary time in advance – and I have taken note – serves slower, richer, hour by hour living. I have yet to go through his spiritual exercise of thinking about what sort of tributes might be given at my funeral but I shall do. Will they talk of someone with time for others? I hope so and this book will help me head that way. Less is More serves self-examination through its enthusiastic belief in the triumph of the human spirit ‘pushing up like a flower through the cracks in the concrete pavement of our lives’ (Bill Plotkin).
Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law
Mary McAleese Columba Press, 168pp, hbk
978 1856077866, £16.99
NOT NORMALLY my kind of book, but I happened to be on holiday in Ireland, and a study on canon law by a recently retired President of a republic is something arresting and impressive. After the wonderful Mary Robinson, I was initially unhappy with McAleese, but after two terms I acknowledge she did a fine job.
The notion of collegiality is not new, but it was given renewed force in Vatican II (celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year) and was written into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Was it, however, used either coherently or consistently? From this revised doctoral thesis, it would seem not. Which contradictions have only been exacerbated by the present Pontiff, she argues.
I am happy to admit that I do not understand all the issues involved (I am no lawyer) but I enjoyed the challenge. Part of me is glad to be an Anglican, where empirical rationality has always taken precedence over deductive logic from received axioms. The greater part of me, however, would be happier as a liberal smoothing the rock, than as a traditionalist swimming through fudge. At least Romans have something to get their teeth into.
A CLERGY HUSBAND’S SURVIVAL GUIDE
Matthew Caminer SPCK, 128pp, pbk
978 0281067909, £8.99
IN THE creepy-horror section, this is my best read of 2012. Married to a Diocesan Director of Ordinands (a deacon, don’t panic) I encounter many books on vocation and ministry. This one is worth noting. It is not an obviously inviting title for a ND reader considering his vocation, or for his wife.
As a description of the complex process of discernment, training, ordination and curacy, it is accurate, detailed, engagingly clear and helpful. Nearly all is as relevant to a wife as a husband, and it is well worth reading if you yourself are in this timetable, if only because so many of the technicalities and expectations have changed over the past few years, and certainly since your incumbent went through the process.
Mr Caminer is an ordinary member of the CofE. A couple of passing references show that he has never And yet – this is the creepy-horror highlight of the book – he speaks (without whingeing) of the chauvinism his wife suffers. If you want corroboration that the mistreatment of women clergy is not principally to be laid at our door, you’ll find it here – not a nice picture.
THE FACE OF GOD
The Gifford Lectures 2010 Roger Scruton
Cambridge, 200pp, hbk
Full review in September’s New Directions
978 1847065247, £18.99
I HAVE reviewed this already, as September’s Book of the Month. But it deserves another mention. Now that the argument and the detail have largely faded from my immediate memory, I am still left with his principal image – the face – as a means of reflection in my thoughts and prayer.
How and where does the objective world of science leave room for the subjective world of action, persons and God, in a culture where (however wrongly) science is seen as a complete and sufficient explanation? In the face. Here, more powerfully and inescapably than anywhere else, science has to acknowledge that its work is incomplete. The face is where ‘I’ meets ‘you’, the almost magical (or as we would say, incarnational) place in the physical world where I see and speak to you as a person or spirit.
Such a brief summary sounds like something out of ‘Celtic spirituality’, and most of my musings are indeed close to nonsense. But what gives purpose and progress to my thoughts is the grounding I found in Scruton’s lectures. I shall be reading them again next year.