Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: The Hawk and the Dove, by Penelope Wilcock

  Great-uncle Edward had many tales to tell of Father Peregrine, after the terrible thing that happened to him.  Uncle Edward said it crippled his body, but it set his spirit free.  He said that most men would have become bitter and closed in, but Peregrine did not.  He used his own weakness as a bridge to cross over to his brothers, when they too were weak.  Having lost everything, he gave his weakness to God and it became his strength.
  In a way, all the tales are one tale, the tale of how God's power is found in weakness.  But that is the story of the whole of life, if you know how to read it right (p. 40).
Now and again, the right book comes along at the exact right moment in life, and the timing makes the difference between a good read and a beloved read.  Penelope Wilcock's The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy, which I read this Lent, is one of those right books for me.  The themes that linger with me are God's grace shining brightest through (not "despite") weakness and the refrain, "God forgives you, and so do I."

The books tell the stories of the monks in a pre-Reformation English Benedictine monastery.  The abbot, Father Peregrine, embodies both eponymous birds.  He is the human hub connecting his brothers' tales; however, in a sense the true hub of the trilogy is Jesus Christ, who is exalted throughout.  It is a rare piece of fiction that moves me to worship as this did.  The rhythms of the Benedictine days with their measures of prayer, work, worship, and community sets the mood of the writing, as well, making it a peaceful sort of read.  It also gave me hope for my own weaknesses and limitations and the way they impact my community.

Ms. Wilcock does a masterful job of characterization.  There's a line from Marianne Moore's poem "Poetry" which asserts that the job of the poet is to "present/for inspection, 'imaginary gardens with real toads in them,'" and The Hawk and the Dove is full of "real toads."  The monks are as different and distinct as any real group of people, but without descending to caricature.

In the first two books, a contemporary story about an English teen receiving the tales from her mother as part of her family heritage serves as narrative scaffolding for the monks' stories.  Wilcock dispenses with that device in the third book, perhaps because the shifting focus of the first two books comes to rest on a pair of characters and stays there throughout the third.  While I missed the contemporary family, I acknowledge that they were no longer essential to the unity of the third book, though their exclusion may weaken the unity of the trilogy as a whole.  I am curious to see whether the modern family is present in the fourth volume, set to release in July of this year.

In the third book of the trilogy, the tone also changes, becoming more melancholy than the first two books.  The characters are grappling with a newer level of severe, long-term physical illness and a particularly emotional question of medical ethics.  I felt these were handled well, but the turn caught me off guard and would have upset me at certain points in life.  At this juncture, I found the narrative thought-provoking and hopeful even through the hard things it tells.

All in all, I found this trilogy inspiring, perhaps the most redemptive, grace-filled Christian fiction I've read since the Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers.  We will see how well my affection for The Hawk and the Dove endures, but it is the right book for my present, and I expect it will be one to reread more than once.


  1. Wow! Thanks for the review. I have not heard of these. You had me at them causing you to worship. Wonderful!

  2. @AnneGood! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

  3. I want to put this trilogy on my list of books to read now. . . thanks!

  4. @Amy I hope it doesn't disappoint! Since you have actually been to England, you may enjoy it that much more.

  5. YaY I love finding out about new books! Thanks for the review, its going on the list.

  6. @Rambling Heather A woman after my own heart. I hope you find it the blessing I did. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. what an amazing review... you've sold me. i love how unique the setting... i will have to look into this. and my husband swears by francine rivers' mark of the lion series; i need to read that as well. love to you.

  8. @emily wierenga It makes me a little nervous to post such an enthusiastic review, lest others feel they have wasted valuable reading time on my recommendation. :)

    The Rivers series is loved so widely and well I have no hesitation in that recommendation at all.

    The setting is unusual. As a book pairing, it might be interesting to read _Hawk and Dove_ in sequence with _In This House of Brede_, which is also set in an English Benedictine monastery but in a monastery of nuns and in the mid-20th century.

  9. God's grace shining brightest through (not "despite") weakness

    Completely the theme to all I'm reading today. I love it when God repeats Himself so I know He's talkin' to me. And He's talkin' through you tinuviel.

  10. @Joybird I love it when God does that, too. Thanks for the encouragement; I'm glad you heard your Shepherd's voice here.

  11. I read Hawk and the Dove in late 1990. Absolutely loved it. I so WISHED the book, the trilogy was in audio format. As this is my primary way of reading these days. I hope this and the works of Penelope Wilcox I have yet to read is put in audio format real soon.

    1. That would be lovely! I would buy the audio version too, assuming the reader suited the content. Do you perhaps have someone in your life who would read it to you? It's a time-intensive undertaking, so perhaps not.

      It isn't yet in public domain, so a publicly shared recording (e.g., on YouTube) would require permission from Wilcox and the publisher.

      Thanks for stopping by. Grace and peace to you in Jesus.


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