cover image Glittering Images

Glittering Images

Susan Howatch. Alfred A. Knopf, $18.95 (399pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56206-3

Howatch's outstanding gifts as a storyteller (Wheel of Fortune) are combined here with a new seriousness of theme; the result is a superior novel with bestselling potential. The ""glittering images'' of the title are those we present with pride to the world; in this case, the cherished images of charismatic, successful churchmen, elegant in their clerical robes, whose congregations are moved by their sermons. These are not the TV evangelists of the '80s, however, but clergymen of the 1930s, whose King has had to choose between his throne and marriage with a divorcee. A controversial speech on divorce reform in the House of Lords by the outspoken Bishop of Starbridge (a character based on Herbert Henson, Bishop of Hereford) provokes the Archbishop of Canterbury to dispatch his protege, Charles Ashworth, Doctor of Divinity, to look for any skeletons in the Bishop's closetor in his bedthat the gutter press could use to smear the Bishop and, by extension, the Church. Ashworth, a debonair widower, is immediately attracted to Lyle Christie, paid companion to Carrie Jardine, the Bishop's wife. Lyle first responds to, then flees from, Ashworth's admittedly forward embraces. When he discovers the reasons for her behavior he is hurled into a moral and spiritual crisis. There's no doubt that sex and religion can make exciting bedfellows; add mysteries within mysteries, scenes of charismatic spiritual healing and a deft creation of a middle-class milieu that disappeared with WW II, and you have an engrossing novel that challenges the reader's sense of the fine points of morality. Howatch succeeds in making the subtle and complex theological points of a spiritual transformation both credible and exciting in a narrative whose dramatic tension never abates. BOMC alternate. (October 8)