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A Severe Mercy Paperback – May 26, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060688246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060688240
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, is a heart-rending love story described by its author as "the spiritual autobiography of a love rather than of the lovers." Vanauken chronicles the birth of a powerful pagan love borne out of the relationship he shares with his wife, Davy, and describes the growth of their relationship and the dreams that they share. As a symbol of their love, they name their dream schooner the Grey Goose, "for the grey goose, if its mate is killed flies on alone and never takes another."

While studying at Oxford, Sheldon and Davy develop a friendship with C.S. Lewis, under whose influence and with much intellectual scrutiny they accept the Christian doctrine. As their devotion to God intensifies, Sheldon realizes that he is no longer Davy's primary love--God is. Within this discovery begins a brewing jealousy.

Shortly after, Davy acquires a fatal illness. After her death Sheldon embarks on an intense experience of grief, "to find the meaning of it, taste the whole of it ... to learn from sorrow whatever it had to teach." Through painstaking reveries, he comes to discover the meaning of "a mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love." He learns that her death "had these results: It brought me as nothing else could do to know and end my jealously of God. It saved her faith from assault. ...And it saved our love from perishing."

Replete with 18 letters from C.S. Lewis, A Severe Mercy addresses some of the universal questions that surround faith--the existence of God and the reasons behind tragedy. --Jacque Holthusen


“No brief review can do justice to the human depth of this book. It invites us to explore a beautiful dollhouse of love and to witness the destruction of a relation too exquisite to last.” (Washington Post)

“Here is a book for anyone who has truly loved another person.” (Christianity Today)

“[A] deep, uncompromising story about human and divine love.” (Los Angeles Times)

“A towering and noble work in its own right, wrought by a real craftsman . ..” (New Oxford Review)

“A gem of a book . . . delivers an extraordinary impact on the reader.” (Eternity)

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Customer Reviews

Very thought provoking.
sara bard
The letters between Sheldon and C.S. Lewis are priceless.
Matthew Mccleary
It is a beautiful story.
Suzanne O'Neal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

147 of 150 people found the following review helpful By L. Marshall on July 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
A Severe Mercy is a masterfully crafted autobiography and the story of an intensely deep love relationship, a profound introspective on their path to finding God, and the utimate bereavement the author experiences as his thirty-something wife dies of a terminal illness.
Along the way, their paths cross with C.S. Lewis; personal correspondence with him peppers the book, as does a collection of superb poems written by Vanauken. It explores complex theological, philosophical and aesthetic issues with deep insight and profoundly sharp perspective. I can't recommend it highly enough, it's truly one if the best books I've ever read - a work of art which crosses many dimensions.
Practically speaking, A Severe Mercy explores a number of crucial life issues with breathtaking clarity. First, the second chapter, "The Shining Barrier" distills more insight into the true workings of a wonderful marriage relationship than a dozen garden-variety relationship books from the self-help section of a bookstore. Anyone who wants to understand why their romance has cooled off after five or ten or twenty years of marriage (including myself) could use this chapter alone as a manual for re-kindling the fire.
Secondly, it explores the nature of a difficult spiritual journey in a most articulate way - the emotional, philosophical, theological and personal implications of the claims of Jesus Christ. This book is not in any way a Bible-thumping promo for Christianity; rather it examines the claims of Christ and their implications from logical, historical, aesthetic and personal viewpoints -- in a way that no thinking person can easily dismiss.
I gave this book to friends of mine, a highly educated married professional couple, before they went on a camping trip.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By D. Carter on February 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have loved this book over the years for all the reasons stated in the other reviews printed here and purchased it again here recently as a gift. You, too, will love the read. However, my comments are regarding the edition that is being offered here. The book quality from this publisher is exceedingly poor and not worth buying. Both the paper and the print are of the cheapest quality and are not worthy of a book of this excellence. Get the book, but get it from a better publisher.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
After putting it off for several years, I finally read A Severe Mercy, between Maunday Thursday and Easter Sunday, 1999. With Christ's Passion, Death, and Resurrection as the background, along with my wife's yearning to leave our Lutheran exile and join the Roman Catholic Church, I cried my way through the book, simply unable to restrain tears of hurt, joy, compassion, sorrow, and very strong empathy. These tears were also shed in the context of Little Lost Marion, Vanauken's story of finding the child Davy had at age 14, and which she put up for adoption, not aborting. Sheldon and Davy never had children, a pre Christian decision a Christian Vanauken came to regret.
Then it hit me. The power of the book doesn't lie primarily in the story of grief and lost love, as poignant and beautiful as it is. Rather, if we stop with Sheldon and Davy's love for each other, we will miss Vanauken's major point: Davy's death as God's "severe mercy" to keep Sheldon in God's love. Davy's death allowed God to destroy the 'shining barrier" of their love, kill that idol, and reclaim Vanauken for himself. Mercy, indeed, if you can handle it, and Vanauken, in God's grace did. Perfect Lenten and Holy Week reading! But also a perfect book to help Christians understand the lengths to which God will go to keep his children and to see that in the great hurts and disappointments of life, God's severe mercy is frequently at work.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Cipriano on January 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
After several readings of this book over the past few years, I can conclude without any hesitation that it is the most moving and unforgettable memoir I've ever read. It is relevant to note that all 29 of the other ... reviewers (at the time of my own writing) rate it a solid 5 stars... it really deserves a sixth. Not only for it's amazing true content, but for the beautiful way in which the author lays it all out. This book will literally captivate your imagination, sweep you away, and tug you towards a deeper understanding of the depths of "inloveness" (a Vanauken term) possible in God-ordained marriage.
Sheldon and Jean Vanauken were living the dream of togetherness that most people only.... well, DREAM about... until they came face to face with the fact that perhaps "perpetual springtime is not allowed." Those words were from their personal friend, the Oxford don C.S. Lewis and addressed to Sheldon as he tried to make sense of his overwhelming grief.
This is the story of a profound love between two people... a love that has its genesis, consummation, and terminus in heavenly places. If your eyes are dry all the way through this book... well, never mind... they won't be.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By steve nelson on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
What a beautifully engrossing book. I had known about the kind of book A Severe Mercy was for some years, and had (unconsciously) been avoiding it, for I knew it was a book about, and for, grieving. It is also a story about a sweet, adventurous, wide-awake marriage.
But most of all, it is a message to the reader about the most pure and complete love of all, the love of God for his creation. One should read this book only if one is prepared (Christian or not) to be confronted with the awesome (and undeniable) truth of God's existense and his relentlessly loving pursuit of his children.
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