Our Lady of Everything, by Susan Finlay

I…am not sure what to say about Susan Finlay’s novel, Our Lady of Everything. On the one hand, it has a very interesting premise, characters I liked, and some genuinely moving moments. On the other, the book never really gelled. Whatever it was trying to tell me remained so diffuse that I couldn’t pick up on an actual thesis.

Let me go back to the beginning. Margaret O’Shea, an Irish woman who emigrated to Nottingham years ago, is on her own again for the first time in ages. Her grandson, Eoin, has been deployed to Iraq. Margaret, and Eoin’s fiancée, Katarzyna, do their best to stay in touch but Eoin goes incommunicado shortly after the book begins. Margaret leans on her Catholic faith; she says the rosary with all the extras multiple times a day. Katarzyna puts her trust in the internet and spends a lot of time refreshing her inbox.

The perspective of the novel quickly expands from Margaret and Katarzyna to family, church acquaintances, and friends. One of these, Dr. David Goldstein is one of the most objectively interesting. He’s so interesting that he features in the publisher’s description of Our Lady of Everything. Where the other characters are more or less faithful Catholics, Hindus, or Muslims, Goldstein is the process of creating a new form of worship that blends a book called The Kaosphere (found in the game shop where he works now) with magick (he always insists on the -k) with elements of all the religions he encounters. While this sounds interesting, it came off as irritating and not a little disrespectful as he appropriated rituals and prayers.

Goldstein was supposed to be the big draw for Our Lady of Everything, but I was much more interested in Margaret. I was fascinated by the way that her behavior reduced to an obsessive-compulsive version of Catholicism. So much of her life, terrible things have happened that she had no ability to control. Her faith at least provides an explanation for these terrible things and a way to cope. But I’ve never seen faith from this perspective before, as though it’s a psychological phenomenon rather than an active choice.

Faith and religion play so many interesting roles in this book that it’s a shame that the parts didn’t all fit together properly. Goldstein was a distraction from a story about a potential family that has to deal with a startling legal problem that seems to come out of nowhere. I would have been more satisfied with that story than I was with what I got.

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