Marriage Equality: Have you received your survey? Plus a book review

If not, you have until Friday to ask for a replacement.

To request a new ballot, please visit the ABS website and fill out their replacement ballot form.

And if you have received your survey?  Now would be a good time to return it.

(I suggest voting yes.  You will be glad you did in twenty years time.)

And now, for something completely different, a book review…

(It’s relevant. I promise.)

I’ve been aware of Kathleen Jowitt for a while as a friend of a friend and a reader of my fiction blog. So when I saw that her novel, Speak Its Name, was on special, I thought I’d see what it was about.

I don’t know who the intended audience is, but I do know that I loved it.  It’s a story about faith, and about love, and about figuring out who you are and how to live with integrity.  It’s a college story and a romance and a story about theology, and it’s like someone put Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin in a blender with a good dose of student politics and a few shots of gay liberation theology and mixed it all up into a novel that is sweet and heartbreaking and honest and incisive and very, very compelling, at least to me.

In fact, when I first read it, I finished it, spent two days unable to settle to anything else, and then went back and read it again.

The story centres around Lydia, a second-year student at Stancester University and a member of the Christian Fellowship. In fact, she’s not just a member, she is the Hall Officer for her floor, tasked with providing Christian leadership to her fellow students, and bringing the lost to Christ.  She is excited about the trust placed in her, and anxious and dutiful about meeting her responsibilities, and also kind of preoccupied and worried because unluckily for Lydia, she is also a lesbian, though she isn’t willing to admit this out loud, even to herself.  Indeed, even in her prayers, she just begs God to ‘change her’, without saying what needs to be changed.

The narrative is thus essentially about Lydia coming to terms with her identity as both lesbian and evangelical Christian. This is not an easy synthesis to make, and she makes mistakes and hurts herself and others along the way.  It does, I think, portray very clearly the pain of being torn by two very strong identities that seem incompatible, and the unintentional cruelty of the people around her.  While the book is quite compassionate towards Lydia and her friends, it is not entirely impressed by the political manoeuvrings of the Christian Fellowship.  But it isn’t entirely one-sided there, either.  Lydia absolutely and clearly views herself as Evangelical throughout – her conflict is not about stopping being Evangelical, it’s about figuring out how to be truly Evangelical and truly herself, both at once.  And while some Fellowship members are rather more intent on political power than is becoming, others are at least trying to be helpful (Posh Will is one of the more enigmatic characters – one never knows quite what is going on in his head, and he’s an example of a character who clearly has a story of his own that we simply don’t have access to.)

This book is absolutely steeped in theology, as it is something all the characters are deeply concerned about.  It also has an adorable and highly ecumenical cast.  There is Colette, who is a proud Methodist and also openly bisexual.  There is Peter, who is black and High Anglican and feels like an homage to his namesake from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  He is studying theology.  Becky is a Quaker and a political activist, and for someone who is a pacifist she is quite a fighter.  And then there is the ecumenical prayer vigil early in the book which I really, really wanted to go to, because it sounded amazing.  It’s a book about relationships – both friendships of different sorts, and romantic ones (no sex, however – while it is discussed, it quite explicitly does not take place. There’s definitely kissing, though.)

Speak its Name is not without its difficult moments.  There are some deeply sad moments that occur in the book, and there is a constant building dread for much of the middle section as Lydia tries to figure out what and how to tell her parents about who she is.  But there is also a true triumph of love and integrity in the end.

A final note – the title of this book clearly references the Alfred Douglas quote about a love that dares not speak its name, but as I read the book I found that it had another meaning in context – the act of speaking one’s own truth and claiming it as part of oneself.

If you are interested in theology, if you like university stories and coming of age stories and love stories, if you like stories with lesbian protagonists, I think this book will be for you.

Excerpt

Colette picked up another insert and read it swiftly. ‘Good grief,’ she said. ‘I honestly didn’t realise that people still got so hung upon Leviticus. I thought that all got straightened out round about the year AD 40, with the sheet full of animals.’

It felt like a small earthquake. ‘Oh. Go on.’

Colette raised her eyebrows. ‘It’s obvious. Isn’t it? Peter thinks he’s been sent to the Jews and only to the Jews. And then he goes to stay with this Roman and he has a vision.’

Trembling, Lydia knelt beside Colette, stretched her arms around her waist, and laid her face in her lap. ‘A sheet comes down from heaven, full of all sorts of animals, some of which are unclean. And he hears a voice saying, ‘Peter, kill and eat’. And he says, no, they’re unclean. And the voice says…’ She broke off.

Colette laid a hand on Lydia’s head, and finished it for her. ‘Do not call anything unclean that God has called clean. And then Peter realises that it’s not about food; it’s about the people. The people that Peter previously thought were unclean, are clean, because God made them, too.’ Then more urgently, ‘And they realise, later, that the Gentile believers don’t have to be circumcised. They are welcome exactly as they are.’

Lydia cried for a little while. ‘I didn’t realise it was about me,’ she said at last. ‘Thank you.’

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