Saturday, 25 October 2014

"Levi's Gift" by Jennifer Burke




A mother, a daughter and a lost grandchild.  Sometimes grief can bring people closer that they ever thought imaginable.   

Lena is watching her daughter, Mattie, spiral downwards into a pit of depression following the stillbirth of her son, Ben.  A difficult mother and daughter relationship at the best of times, she suggests a trip to Italy, hoping it may heal some wounds.  But who's wounds is she really trying to heal?

A story of love, loss and regret, under the shimmering sunlight of Italian skies,  The stories of young love, old love and in-between love.  The effects of forbidden encounters, lost lives and altered paths. 

A visit to see a friend ordained as a priest is where the past collides with the present.  Can Lena and Mattie ever have the bond that has eluded them all this time?  Will the peaceful surroundings of a seminary be a help or a hindrance? 



Jennifer Burke has written a novel full of spirit.  Religious spirit.  The descriptions of the Catholic seminary, just outside Rome, are eloquent and detailed.  The seminarians, nuns and priests are lovingly described and seem flawless.  There is a world of peace, comfort and serenity behind the walls of the seminario, and the author uses the sounds of a choir to blend these aspects together. 

The main characters of Lena and Mattie are each given their own parts within the novel,  but I'm not sure this was necessary.  Both characters are tough and not without flaws.   Lena is a woman who has carried an inner turmoil for almost twenty years.  Seemingly unaware, she has ignored her daughter for most of her life, and only when she sees her in the depths of despair does she seem to notice her existence.   Mattie is grieving.  Grieving hard.  But trying to grieve alone, as she has had to deal with most things alone for her whole life.  Luckily for both women, there is a family, nearby, who embraces their oddness.  Ruth is Lena's best friend and her family have been there for years.  Mattie and Ruth's son, Simon, were sweethearts before college and Simon's brothers feel like Mattie's brothers.  A devout Catholic family, the complete opposite to Lena and Mattie, they are responsible for the trip to Italy.

Jennifer writes with a real passion for the seminario and for the life contained inside its walls but I found myself getting a little bored.  The story took a while to kick in and when it did, there was so much religious intone that my mind wandered again.  Luckily, Ruth and her family kept the story alive.  I adored Simon and his brothers, thought Ruth was an absolute legend, considering what she had to put up with in Lena, and the nuns were fantastic.  Lena, however, was not a nice character.  Selfish and prone to fainting fits when the going got tough.  Mattie was also guilty of drama queen tactics and hurtful behaviour.  Like mother, like daughter.  Returning, from Italy, with more knowledge but more bitterness, the women eventually become more relaxed and likable as they forge on in their respective lives.  Luckily, Ruth hangs around too.

Jennifer Burke's writing is superb.   She uses beautiful prose and there is immaculate attention to detail.  The scenes where the seminarians have a secret wine and cheese night, below stairs, had me wishing I was there too, sipping organic wine while sampling local cheeses and breads.  The author is passionate about her subject,  this is obvious in her writing but the religious, and in turn musical scenes, were a little too much for my personal tastes.  I felt it was eating into possible character development and taking away from the narrative.  However, this book is perfect for someone who prefers their books from the literary genre and I will certainly look forward to reading more of Jennifer's lyrical prose.

Levi's Gift is published by Ward River Press/Poolbeg and is available in paperback and ebook format.


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