Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Severe Mercy, A Review

I'm reviewing A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken today for my Christmas break book club. To begin with, I've composed a little quiz for you to decide if you would like A Severe Mercy.

Do you like...

A) Love stories?
B) Oxford?
C) Poetry?
D) C.S. Lewis?
E) All of the above?

If you said "Yes" to any of the above... run, don't walk, to the nearest library, bookstore or Amazon.com to get your hands on a copy of this marvelous book. 

A Severe Mercy is not a love story, strictly speaking, but rather an autobiography of a love between a man and woman. The book begins with Sheldon (nicknamed "Van") remembering his youth with Davy as he walks near his childhood home. He goes on to tell the story of his relationship with Jean Davis (called "Davy"), from their first meeting to their early marriage and through all the years of their relationship. Their adventures range from the horrific, as when they witness the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, to the magical, as they spend years living on a boat off the Florida Keys or in the Virginia countryside. They go to study at Oxford, where they encounter the works of C.S. Lewis and eventually meet the man himself. Their relationship with him slowly transforms their "pagan love" as they seek the truth that leads them to Christianity. When they learn that Davy is ill, however, they will need to rely on all the strength of their love, intellectual life and Christian faith to make it through this great trial.

One thing that makes this book exceptional is that it's about a love story but written from a man's perspective. Another is that it's entirely true; Van and Davy kept thorough diaries of their life together, and Van draws heavily from them in writing his book. If you've read Brideshead Revisited, you will probably enjoy A Severe Mercy; both books share descriptions of golden summer afternoons, the vibrant life of the mind at Oxford and accounts of deep human love. The later parts of the book are very analytical, almost philosophical, in nature as Van describes what he learned through his love for Davy. These parts are still very interesting, however, thanks to Van's personal stories that keep the book relatable.

This is not a book for someone interested in a light, Nicholas Sparks-style love story. This is not a book for those who are bored by the classics or poetry. This is a book written for those who want to understand what human love is, and the way that God can transform human love into something beyond the imagining of those participating in it. It's a beautiful book, I loved it, and to the type of people who read my blog, I can't recommend it highly enough.

1 comment:

  1. After reading some light reading - that I devoured 600 pages a day this book presented a story I could sink my teeth into. Deep and introspective, an enjoyable story of true love. Lovely imagery provides a great vision of a mutual love and respect that spans the commitment of a matched set.