Some summer reading

Books Editor

With the fine weather here at last thoughts turn to holidays, and thoughts of holidays summon up the idea of some leisurely reading. Here are some suggestions for books which might provide some interesting and out of the way reading for those bored with best-sellers.

The Land of Shades

by Charles Lyte

(Xlibris; copies from; ISBN 0-800-056-3182; £13.99 pb / £23.99 hb)

Charles Lyte is a veteran journalist and the author of several biographies. This, however, is his first novel. It began with his researches for a book on the experiences of Catholic chaplains in the Great War, the centenary of which is now being marked across the world.

However what he discovered inspired him to write not a history, but this novel. And in many ways this seems an appropriate response to the nature of that appalling catastrophe for Western civilisation.

His narrative begins in the first weeks of the war, when the German army (following plans long laid down by the German General Staff in Berlin) swept across neutral Belgium and occupied the ancient city of Louvain. By the end of the month a fifth of the city had been destroyed in reprisals and large numbers of the citizens shot out of hand. Modern warfare (such as we still see today) had arrived.

In Charles Lyte’s narrative a refugee from the city was an English Jesuit, Julian Hydon. During his flight he witnesses the murder of a scholastic, Eugene Dupierreux.

These scenes of barbarity determined Hydon to join the army to defend civilisation. He became an army chaplain. But as his experiences of life in the morass of trench warfare accumulated, he like many others became disillusioned.

He attends a deserter, about to be shot – a scandal of the Great War which has only been addressed by the authorities in recent times. This leads him on (in an echo of what happened to Siegfried Sassoon) to denounce the execution. He is dismissed from both the army and from his order. He begins an association with the deserter’s girlfriend.

The novel from here moves towards his search for redemption of a kind in the maelstrom of the Western Front. Killed in action, however, he leaves a small son, Tim, who at the end of the book is adopted by Julian’s mother. Alas, the reader may reflect, Tim will just be of age to fight — and probably die — in WWII.

Many books will be written about the Great War in the years to come. But Charles Lyte’s sensitive and deeply human book ought not to be overlooked by anyone seeking to know something of the inner nature of those years.

There are inevitably echoes of Sassoon, Robert Graves, Henry Williamson, Wilfred Owen, Henri Barbusse, and even Liam O’Flaherty. But Charles Lyte achieves his own distinctive voice and a narrative that builds its effects slowly by moving from the comfort of home life to the disasters of war.

At the heart of the book, however, is the profound problem of what should be the role of a chaplain in war. A witness to God’s love, how can he express his abhorrence of man’s hatreds? It is a problem that remains for us all – and one Ireland will also have to face over the decade of remembrance.


In Gratitude: The Story of a Gift-Filled Life

by Catherine McCann

(Orpen Press, €15.00)

Readers will have heard of the Shekina Sculpture Garden down in Wicklow. Shekina is a Hebrew word which signifies “God’s intimate presence with his people as they journeyed as well as in the places they rested”.

This oasis away from the world was the creation of Catherine McCann, and in this absorbing book she recounts the adventure of her life. Born into the family who lived in Simmonscourt Castle, she belongs to the gratin of pre-war Dublin. At the age of 20 she followed her vocation into the Sisters of Charity. She was involved in many projects, including taking pilgrims to the Holy Land, often working with Fr Charlie O’Connor, with whom she developed a great bond.

I have often thought that there is no lack of vocations these days, it is just that they take a different form. The later life of Catherine McCann illustrates this. For she left her order to peruse her calling in the wider world. She became a physiotherapist, a counsellor and a spiritual director.

Filled with personal interest and insights into the changing nature of life in Ireland, this is a most interesting read. Margaret MacCurtain found it “courageous, poignant, enriching and honest”. Other readers will think it a deeply human document.


Step Back: Finding the Way Forward in Life

by Norman Drummond

(Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)

Founder of Columba 1400, a charity devoted to enabling disadvantaged youths rise to positions of leadership, Norman Drummond is currently the Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland.

As a Church of Scotland minister, he is the heir to a great tradition of making the best of oneself that has long informed Scottish life and literature. His theme in this book is however on not allowing one’s self to be overwhelmed by the everyday routines. One should step back, pause, take stock, and see where one really ought to be going.

He brings a Christian perspective to this which many will find invigorating. The success of his own life both as a leader, a preacher, and teacher, suggest that there is merit in his views.