Roy Peachey

Roy Peachey is an English teacher in Cambridge, UK. His first degree was in Modern History from Oxford University and he then went on to take an English degree with the Open University and an MA in Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His interests range from Chinese literature to Old English, from Children’s Literature to Contemporary Fiction. Roy has written articles for a number of Catholic publications including the Catholic Herald.

Book Reviews by Roy Peachey

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A Far Cry from Kensington

Muriel Spark's A Far Cry from Kensington is a playful, clever and occasionally disturbing comic novel. It is also a book about the publishing industry but it's far from being a self-obsessed media novel. There is a strong satirical element to the book but there are also some great characters and an intriguing plot. As with so many of her novels, Muriel Spark enjoys toying with her readers, leading us this way and that wi...

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The Road

We can be fairly certain that Joseph Ratzinger was not thinking of Cormac McCarthy when he wrote in 2002 that, in the face of the evil seen in the modern world, "a purely harmonious concept of beauty is not enough. It cannot stand up to the confrontation with the gravity of the questioning about God, truth and beauty." Nonetheless, that stark concept of beauty is precisely what we find in what is arguably McCarthy's greatest and most explicitly religious novel, The Road.

The book is in many ways utterly bleak - an unnamed father and son wander through a dead America in which "the frailty of everythi...

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All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the greatest pieces of literature to have emerged from the Great War was Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. It is the story of a young man and his classmates just out of school and their catastrophic experiences during the Great War.

Remarque was baptised and raised a Catholic. He was educated in Catholic schools and attended a Catholic teachers' seminary until he was called up in 1916 and then injured at Passchendaele. So it seems reasonable to ask what impact Catholicism had on his most famous book.

It is something of a cliché that religious be...

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Millions

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Frank Cottrell Boyce is a highly successful scriptwriter and children’s author who also just happens to be a committed Catholic. Millions (which was first conceived as a film directed by Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting fame) is probably Cottrell Boyce’s most obviously Catholic book. Damian, the Year Five narrator, is obsessed with saints and sees them at regular intervals throughout the novel. Whether he is suffering from a religious mania as a result of his mother’s premature death or whether he simply has a childlike faith is ne...

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A Whispered Name

William Brodrick’s Father Anselm novels are very welcome additions to the literary canon. There are many fine novels about World War I but, in A Whispered Name, Brodrick gives us something new: a compelling mystery about a First World War deserter and his mysterious links with an officer who went on to become a priest and monk.

Brodrick’s Father Anselm, who finally uncovers the mystery, is the latest in a long line of priest-detectives. What makes this novel different is the detailed knowledge Brodrick, a barrister and former Augustinian friar, brings to his writing. He creates, in Larkwood mona...

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The Birds of the Air



If you are looking for some Christmas reading then you could do a lot worse than Alice Thomas Ellis's The Birds of the Air. All the constituents of a traditional British Christmas are there — family arguments; embarrassingly drunk relations; the Queen's speech — but there is also a lot of comedy too, especially once you get beyond the first fifteen pages.

The Birds of the Air was written at a time of great personal anguish for its author. Her nineteen-year old son, Joshua, had recently fallen of...

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Guardian Angel House

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Guardian Angel House (published under the title What if They Find Us? in the U.K.), is based upon the experiences of Kathy Clark's Hungarian Jewish mother and aunt who were saved from the Nazis by the Sisters of Charity in Budapest. What is unusual about this children's book is that it is a powerful story published by a mainstream publishing house which shows Catholics in a very good light.

The book is part of Scholastic's My True Story series but it is actually an imaginative reconstruction of the time in fictional form.

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The Misogynist

The Misogynistis well-written, psychologically astute and wryly amusing. It also has a clever twist at the end which I won't give away here. However, what it is not is the straightforward story of a misogynist. Misogyny is there but it is not the shaping factor in the protagonist's life. Jomier, the embittered barrister whose story this is, lashes out where he can, a number of other targets taking the flack as much as the women in his life.

However the title isn't the novel's major problem: the problem is that it isn't obvious who this novel is for. Jomier is not a religious m...

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Awaiting Orders

Farrell O'Gorman has set himself a tough task in Awaiting Orders. The novel focuses on four young naval officers who are waiting for their orders for active duty to come through. Assigned to a holding unit in California, the four watch and wait while the First Gulf War is played out on their television screens. Some are frustrated by their inaction, some are excited by the licence they have been given; they drink, party and try to make sense of their existence. Life is on hold: the wait is everything.

The novel's main protagonist is Wes Hammond, who is afflicted by an existential angst th...

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The Great Gatsby

When in 1922 F. Scott Fitzgerald started work on what was eventually to become The Great Gatsby he decided, as he told his publishers, that his new novel would “have a catholic element” to it. This catholic element may not be so obvious in the final version but that may be, as some critics have argued, because Fitzgerald chose to cut the account of Gatsby’s Catholic childhood and publish it separately as the short story, ‘Absolution’. What is certain is that knowing Gatsby to be, like Fitzgerald himself, an ex-Catholic helps makes sense of the novel’s great power.

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Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction

I recently went into the public library in Cambridge – a place not entirely without culture – in search of one of Flannery O’Connor’s books. Not being able to find it, I asked one of the librarians. Our conversation went something like this:

“I wonder if you could help me. I’m looking for a book by Flannery O’Connor.”
“What sort of things did he write?”

“He was a she.”

“OK, so what did she write?”

“Mainly short stories but I’m looking for some of her essays.”

“Well, Irish Literature is over there.”
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The Ministry of Fear

If you're after brilliant writing and an exciting plot and don't mind dodgy theology then Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear is the book for you.

Greene called his novel an ‘entertainment’ but it is clearly much more than that. Despite creating one or two implausible moments in the plot, Greene draws us into the action from the very first pages and doesn't let us go. The descriptive writing is tremendous and the sense of fear is utterly palpable as Arthur Rowe, the novel's anti-hero, flees for his life after getting caught up with a Nazi spy ring when attending...

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Symposium

One of the reasons why retirement seems such an attractive option is because I will then be able to work my way through the novels of Charles Dickens. Unfortunately retirement is still many years off and so I comfort myself with the thought that I can at least work my way through the novels of Muriel Spark in the meantime. Similarly prolific - she wrote 22 novels - Spark was more inclined to say what she had to say in 150, rather than 450 or 550, pages which gives even the busiest of readers the chance to rattle through her wonderful books.

The most well-known of Spark's novels in The Prime of Miss Jean ...

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Catholic, Ink.

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Sign-up for this free weekly e-newsletter and receive the free article - "What is Catholic Fiction?" Read the weekly column The Catholic Imagination and You and more.