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Fludd: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Fetherhoughton, the shabby and provincial village of Hilary Mantel's fifth novel, Fludd, possesses a charm that is, at best, latent. The surrounding moorland is foreboding, the populace is querulous and ill-educated, and the presiding priest is an atheist. It's 1956, and drabness is general to this English backwater. Until, that is, the appearance of a disarming young priest who, apparently, has been dispatched to wrest Fetherhoughton out of its superstitious stupor. One of the novel's several wonders is that Fludd surpasses all expectations.

Father Angwin, Fetherhoughton's disbelieving priest, has--much to the displeasure of his superiors--grown comfortable with the entrenched, misapprehending devoutness of his flock. Fludd, who may or may not be the curate sent to deliver the wayward, exerts an immediate, if unexpected, influence. He intrigues the townspeople, flusters the church's gaggle of nuns, kindles a welcome self-examination in Father Angwin, and arouses the passion of the young and yearning Sister Philomena. A charge of possibility suddenly animates the village, accompanied by several incidents that seem midway between coincidence and miracle. Fludd, however, remains beset by an insistent disillusionment--his clarity, it seems, arcs outward only.

Mantel's cramped and pliant village is a marvel. Fetherhoughton "wrestles not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world," insists the dour headmistress, Mother Perpetua. A local tobacconist, not so trivially, just might be the devil in human garb. Fludd's gift lies in unearthing all the lovely and fearsome truths buried just beneath the surface. "The frightening thing is that life is fair," he observes, "but what we need... is not justice but mercy." The fruits of this conviction, in Fetherhoughton, are rebellion, self-assertion, and even scandal; but Mantel's lovely tale suggests that difficult possibility is fair compensation for a sloughed predictability. --Ben Guterson

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published in 1989 in the U.K., Mantel's slim, intense novel displays the author's formidable gift for illuminating the darker side of the human heart, offering metaphoric and literal incarnations of the powerful central images of Catholicism. Her circa-1956 setting of Fetherhoughton, a provincial English village surrounded on three sides by gloomy moors, is stark and dreary, a dead end where unwanted people are unceremoniously dumped. Such is the case of Sister Philomena, a sturdy farm girl-turned-nun banished from an Irish convent because her sister Kathleen breaks convent rules. It becomes apparent that Philomena will not fit in anywhere, as she is a strange mix of innocence and knowledge, a sage romantic. Philomena finds an unlikely confidant in Father Angwin, the parish priest, who has lost his faith, thinks the town tobacconist is the devil and fears the threat of a youthful replacement for his post. When a rain-soaked man named Fludd arrives on a stormy night, Angwin assumes it is the newly appointed curate, but even so, the two become close friends and, in time, Angwin sheds his bitterness and paranoia to become a more compassionate, wiser person. Fludd sweeps the nosy housekeeper, Agnes, off her feet with his gentlemanly manners and cool confidence, but Philomena is also strangely attracted to the devilish Fludd, who magically transforms everyone he meets. The monstrous Mother Perpetua, headmistress of the St. Thomas Aquinas School, is the lone exception, and she ends up being a key player in the rural face-off between good and evil. Hawthornden Prize-winner Mantel (The Giant, O'Brien) uses her knack for dry wit and lovely, scene-setting detail to liven up crisp, utilitarian prose, revealing, as her characters do, the ever-surprising divine in the mundane. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 181 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Owl Books ed edition (June 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805062734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805062731
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Joe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 1, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The doleful, English, mill town of Fetherhoughton is the stage for this short, delightful novel, FLUDD, by Hilary Mantel. There are four principal players. Father Angwin, pastor of the Roman Catholic church of St. Thomas Aquinas, has lost his belief in God's existence, but determinedly continues to serve his flock while suffering the oversight of his idiot diocesan bishop. Miss Dempsey, his spinster housekeeper, lives in terror of a small wart above her upper lip, thinking it a portent of cancer. Sister Philomena, a nun teaching in the parish school, is an Irish girl forced by her family into the convent, where she endures the petty tyranny of its Mother Superior. Then there's FLUDD, a curate ostensibly sent by the obnoxious bishop to help Angwin modernize his pastoral approach. Or is he? Once Fludd is in residence, people begin to ... transform.
The engaging aspect of this story is that the reader never understands the nature of the being called Fludd, a mystery also grazing Angwin's perception during his first meal with Fludd, when the former observed:
"Whenever (he) looked up at (Fludd), it seemed that his whiskey glass was raised to his lips, but the level of what was in it did not seem to go down; and yet from time to time the young man reached out for the bottle, and topped himself up. It had been the same with their late dinner, there were three sausages on Father Fludd's plate, and he was always cutting into one or other, and spearing a bit on his fork; he was always chewing in an unobtrusive, polite way, with his mouth shut tight. And yet there were always three sausages on his plate, until at last, quite suddenly, there were none."
Is Fludd a man, or something ... else. He can tell fortunes by looking at the palm of one's hand.
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Format: Hardcover
This extraordinary work in her earlier, lighter style is more accessible than "A Change of Climate." Its eponynous character is a priest -- or is he? Sent to assist a priest in a northern English parish, Fludd engages the Catholic community in unusual ways. The author's signature clarity and dark humor are consistently evident, both in the limning of parish personalities and in the ways in which Fludd brings about his transformations. There is an episode that is perhaps the closest Mantel has ever come to a sex scene, handled with utter delicacy. "Fludd" is a bravura performance and resoundingly satisfying, and it's a pity it has never been released on this side of the pond.
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Format: Paperback
This is a most unusual story, and I hardly know how to
describe what I've read. It reminds me of so many
British films that I've seen over the years where you
never know exactly what's going on, but you like it
In FLUDD we're presented with an obscure town in England
called Fetherhoughton. This is not your lovely little
English village where the characters of Rosamund Pilcher
live. No, this seems to be a dark and depressing place
which is surrounded by moors. Within this town there is
a church located next to a convent of nuns. The parish
priest, Father Angwin is a seemingly kind man who has a
problem with faith: he has lost his. His very
disagreeable Bishop is always after Father Angwin to
make changes and modernize his church. In fact,
the Bishop makes some ridiculous demands which the
parish fulfills and then insinuates that Father Angwin
needs assistance. Enter Father Fludd who apparently is
the new curate and has come to rescue the church and
the people of Fetherhoughton.
Father Angwin, his housekeeper, Agnes Dempsey, and the
young Irish nun, Sister Philomena all need help in one way
or other. Then, there is the very sinister Judd McEvoy
who runs the town's tobacco shop. He appears to cast a
dark cloud over everything. Father Fludd definitely
makes a difference, but who is he and where does he
come from? None of the other characters seem able
to describe the mysterious Fludd.
A story unlike any other. An excellent read!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was so impressed by Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" that I became curious about her previous career and chose this 1989 novel to sample. It is full of the author's mordant black humor, her gimlet eye for the telling phrase, her talent for sharp dialogue and beautiful descriptions, her sharp insight into her characters -- but it remains a minor work. Perhaps she was practicing for a challenge worthy of her tremendous talents and eventually found it in "Wolf Hall." For I am convinced that Mantel is one of the major literary figures of our time -- which makes even her minor works very much worth reading.

We are somewhere in northern England in the mid-1950s in Fetherhoughton, a grimy village peopled by ignorant and superstitious mill workers. Their spiritual needs are met by Father Angwin, a strictly traditional Catholic priest who long ago lost his faith in God but holds his life together through orthodox adherence to the traditional religious forms. "Faith is dead," the father says. "And faith being dead, if we are not to become automatons we must hang on to our superstitions as hard as we may."

The villagers send their ill-shod children to be educated in a school staffed by sadistic nuns with names like Mother Perpetua and Sister Polycarp. Father Angwin says of his parishioners, "These people aren't Christians. These people are heathens and Catholics." He himself is lost in weighty theological questions such as whether meat drippings may be used to fry fish on Fridays.

One day, the local Bishop visits Father Angwin and tells him he must bring his church and his practices up to date. That means getting rid of the array of statues of minor saints all except three.
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