The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale

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I’d describe The Blasphemer as a solidly good read. It begins by following a couple, Daniel and Nancy, as they travel to the Galapagos Islands. Their plane crashes into the sea and Daniel’s instincts take over – he rescues himself without stopping to think about saving Nancy. Nancy survives the crash too but becomes resentful of Daniel. She questions how much he loves her, thinking that if he had any real feelings for her then he would have put her life above his own.

In a parallel narrative we find out about the equally difficult decisions Daniel’s great grandfather made during the First World War. The scenes of the battlefield were particularly vivid and packed with emotion.

Blood is roaring in his ears. He needs to urinate. A feeling of inertia is creeping over him. He’s no longer sure he’ll be able to climb the ladder. All his fears, he knows, lie over these sandbags – fears not of pain but of annihilation, of ceasing to exist, of unimaginable emptiness.

Back in the present day, Daniel begins to investigate letters that his great grandfather wrote and we slowly learn the truth about what happened all those years ago.

I loved this book! It was written simply, but effectively and I was gripped throughout. There were plenty of twists and turns to satisfy my craving for a complex plot and the characters all came to life for me.

The book analyses whether you have time to weigh up all your choices when your life is in danger and whether your responsibility should be to look after yourself or everyone around you.

There were a few sections where I thought the book went too deep into religious discussions, but I’m not a fan of these at the best of times, so most people would probably be OK with it.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story with emotional depth.

Have you read The Blasphemer?

Did you enjoy the religious discussions in it?

Would you be upset if your partner saved themselves first?


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26 Comments

  1. Andreea says:

    I’ve heard good things about this book. I am glad you enjoyed it. I will keep an eye on it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Andreea, I hope that you manage to find a copy and enjoy it as much as I did!

  2. I really enjoyed this book too (also giving it 4.5 stars). I found it hard to categorise, but thought its explorations of the nature of faith quite fascinating. I could have done without the nasty colleague Webster though, and the ending obviously contrived slightly to tie up all the ends but ‘A solidly good read’ hits the nail on the head.

    On your last question, I don’t like being left behind in any circumstance, so I’d be looking for anyone or anything to help I think.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, It is hard to categorise this book. I initially thought it would be an adventure story, but then it became much more philosophical. I loved the way it just kept getting deeper and more thought provoking as it went on.

      I have to agree about Webster though – I’m not sure why he was needed in the book. I didn’t like reading any of the sections he appeared in.

      I thought the ending was perfect. I didn’t mind that it felt a little bit contrived – I loved it and actually missed reading it when I was finished – the sign of a wonderful book!

  3. Molly says:

    I am not familiar with this book, but I do like a book with a good emotional path and I don’t anticipate that the religious discussions would put me off. It is going on “the list”

    Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. Jackie says:

      Molly, I hope that you get round to reading it as it is a wonderful book.

  4. Lots of food for thought in this novel. I’m adding it to my reading list. Thanks for the review.

    1. Jackie says:

      A Bookshelf Monstrosity, There is a lot going on in this book. I would suggest that it would make a fantastic book group read, but I think it might be a little bit long for some groups. It would be nice to read along with someone else though – I’d love to talk about some of the sections.

  5. Steph says:

    Oooh, I really love the premise of this book! Sounds fascinating! I’ve seen it crop up on a few blogs over the past few weeks, and remember reading a review about it a few months ago, but your review really caused me to slow down and revisit the book. This is one I REALLY want to read!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I am really pleased to see that word of this book is slowly spreading. I hope that it continues to do so!

  6. Aarti says:

    Wow, what a powerful idea for a story! And I feel it’s something that is often FELT (the guilt and the resentment) but not communicated. I am glad this book does a good job capturing the complexities of this situation.

    1. Jackie says:

      Aarti, It is such a difficult situation and the problem is that I think the things we do in moments of panic are often just instinctive reactions – nothing to do with what we might do if given a few moments to think about it. It is great that this book managed to capture the situation accurately and I hope that you decide to read it.

  7. Rebecca says:

    I have been hearing lots of positive reviews of this book and it certainly sounds intriguing. Thanks for the review – I’ll be adding it to my TBR list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, It is good to know that lots of people love it – I hope that you do too!

  8. It doesn’t really appeal to me. You’ve done a good job of selling it but there’s something about it that just doesn’t win me over despite the rave review. I’m trying to be more selective with my reading.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I can see why you might not be sold on this book. You might change your mind when it ends up on the Booker long list though :-)

  9. Simon S says:

    I am interested you thought this book had emotional depth as I didnt think any of the characters in the modern part of the book did. In fact I found them quite cowardly and dislikable. I did love the older part of the book though set in the war and could have quite happily had that as a whole book in itself as it was wonderfully written. The modern part just didnt work for me, so much so I almost gave in and put it away for good. I am kind of glad I read the whole thing in the end as I think I sort of liked it. I do think with some books less is more maybe.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I love it when two people read the same book and feel very differently. I thought Daniel and Nancy were a very believable couple. I didn’t like Nancy that much, but I’m not sure we’re supposed to. I thought Daniel was a wonderful character – he showed a lot of strength and insight.

      I do agree that this book contained a few too many topics. It could have been improved by removing the terroism and that annoying Webster character, but on the whole I loved it. It covered an impressive range of subjects and gave me a lot to think about.

  10. Kathleen says:

    I do like the sound of this one. I can’t imagine what would happen if you knew your mate had not rushed to save you in a situation like this. Books that delve into topics such as these are always attractive to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I love books that pick on original topics and make me think about how I’d behave. I hope you decide to give it a try.

  11. Jenners says:

    Oh … this DOES sound good. I’m putting it on my list. I shudder to think how I might react in this type of situation. I suspect I wouldn’t be good for myself or anyone else actually.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Let’s hope you’re never put in that situation then :-)

  12. Jenny says:

    I always fret a lot over whether I’d be noble and selfless in life-threatning situations like this. I find it very soothing to have dreams in which scary things happen and I behave well. This sounds like a great read!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, It sounds as though you have the same kinds of dreams as me! One of my biggest fears is accidently killing someone I love, so I think this book really resonated with me.

  13. She says:

    This does sound like a good one plus it has a nice cover.

    It’s so hard to think about what you would do in a situation like that especially one so spontaneous and crazy like a plane crash. I feel as though as the plane is initially going down and still in the air you would try to help your partner, but once it hits ground/sea, your instincts would take over. Your main thought would be getting to air or getting out of the wreckage.

    I would of course be upset that my partner didn’t search to save me, but I think I would learn to understand. I’m sure I would have done the same thing to him. Can’t be a pot calling the kettle black!

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I don’t think you can blame anyone for saving themselves in such difficult circumstances. I don’t think you have the time to think through things properly in a disaster like that. I think I’d just be grateful to be alive and not worry about who had saved who.

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