My sister recommended me this book, and I was looking forward to read something that at least was partly set in my native Australia. And the thought of reading a recently published work that would be reminiscent of My Brilliant Career was very inviting. This is a novel of choices, and the price we pay for making certain choices in our lives. And I think the novel does show that in the 1920's choices for women and how well they could control their lives were quite limited. A condition of Faith, however, was a big disappointment and unfortunately a rather dull and lack-luster read. I had a real problem with Miller's style - his short, sharp sentences didn't allow the narrative to really flow. Lots of time is given to description of what the characters are doing in their domestic lives, but there is little if any description of their internal workings - their psyches or their motivations. There is no doubt that Miller has done a mountain of research to really recreate the period in Melbourne, Paris and North Africa, but I think he just gets too bogged down in period description without letting the characters' motivations tell the story. I also didn't buy the Emily's central motivation: would a well educated, upper middle class Australian girl like Emily from the 1920's impetuously jump into a sudden marriage with a Frenchman? And would she have done what she did with the Bishop in the Crypt in Chartres? I found this unconvincing; therefore, I found the rest of the story equally implausible. As everything in the novel is filtered through Emily's eyes, we really get to know little about the other characters and what motivates them - we know that Georges is driven by obtaining the tender to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but we never really get to know him and how he deeply feels about Emily - he comes across as stock stereotypical Frenchman, committed to Emily as long as she plays dutiful wife and mother. To be fair there are some good things about Conditions of Faith. I quite liked the scenes in Tunisia - Miller really managed to capture the intense heat and atmosphere of that part of the world. He brings this part of the world vividly to life, particularly with the sub-plots involving Arab nationalism and the history of Carthage, yet these subplots kind of fall flat and never really go anywhere. And his descriptions of Emily painfully studying in the Library in Paris are indeed riveting and heart breaking; you really get a sense of her inner conflict and struggles. It was also nice to have a history lesson on the development of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Generally though, Conditions of Faith is a pretty dull and flat read. If you want to read some Australian literature that is really representative of the Australian psyche, read some Martin Boyd, particularly the novel A Difficult Young Man. Michael
I did not finish the book. About one-third of the way through, I felt like throwing the book across the room except for being too sensible not to damage my walls. Then I stuck with it till the half way mark and gave up.
As a counsellor who has worked with people for nearly two decades, I have heard outlandish stories from clients but there are always root causes for such outlandish behaviours - their parents' behaviours, their traumatic experiences, their early life experiences, etc. The portrait painted of Emily (what I have read of it), just begs plausibility. This woman, who is supposed to be intelligent (did history and got a first at Cambridge) marries a Frenchman she hardly knew, then sleeps with a priest in a spontaneous tryst, and goes off (still very freshly married) to Tunisia with a friend of the husband, with the husband's blessing, for a holiday.
I have a son who went to Cambridge - I know the demands required to gain that sort of academic achievements - I don't believe people that impulsive and unstable would get Firsts at Cambridge.
A good novel has to be, first and foremost, plausible. This book totally fails on that score, based on half the book I read. I refuse to waste my time on the rest. Don't buy it. It will annoy the heck out of you - hence the average review is so low - that should tell you something!
I really wanted to like this book, but the more I've reflected on it the more I was disturbed by it - in a bad way. At a superficial level, the writing is clear and sophisticated and the story tries to be a real portrait of modern thought developing in the early 20th century. But I wonder how much of that is just taking today's socially liberal thinking and misapplying it to that period of time. I also found the author's parallels between the main character (Emily) and Perpetua to be disappointing. From the middle of the book I started hoping the book would not end as predictably as it did. I also found the Emily/Perpetua storyline to be a slam on motherhood. Miller tries to couch this in respect, and explain how "everyone's different and finds their passions in different things" but I felt there was not enough effort expended by Emily (and ESPECIALLY by her friend Olive) to justify her actions. As a mother myself I felt sorry for the characters, when Miller seems to be trying to glorify their choices. So this is a thought provoking book, which is good, but I feel that the characters and the storyline did not adequately support the message Miller tries to convey. That, combined with the utterly predictable plot, makes me give it only 2 stars.