The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Left Hand of God starts out very dreary and grim. It was hard going reading such a dark story, but I found Cale's character compelling enough to keep reading. Reading books in which most of the religious people are the bad guys is difficult for me. Especially when the religion is either Christianity or a thinly veiled, ugly version of what people assume Christianity is. It seems as though Christianity is the religion that gets the most criticism in fiction, and this book is no different. Of course, some tenets are slightly different. But if you are familiar with Christian beliefs, it's clear to see where Hoffman is going here. Think Spanish Inquisition and Mad Monks, and you won't be far off. I won't spend too much more of this review 'ranting' about such things. The churchs of my faith have done enough damage throughout history to draw some negative views from people. But after a while, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, really. Are there bad Christians? Certainly. Are there decent Christians? Certainly. But, more often than not, 'we' get to be the bad guys. Oh well. Despite this unbalanced and rather unfair view of the Christian church, I was still able to enjoy this book, because Cale is a character that draws all this reader's interest back to him. And as magnetic as Cale is, Mr. Hoffman managed to populate this novel with a lot of other interesting characters, from Vague Henry, Kliest, Idris Pook, the Chancellor, Cale's first love, Arbell (who I never grew to like), and the various Matarrazzi citizenry. Also, the humor was very good. Extremely dark and sarcastic, but funny all the same.
One of my friends on GRs remarked that the book seems to have a split personality. I completely agree. The first part seemed like a relentlessly dark story of religious zealotry, and its deleterious effects on young boys. I thought the whole book would be about the boys trying to escape its effect. However, the story turns into a not quite as dark, but still murky coming of age story in which we see a young man go from point A to point Z, and how it affects him. It left me a bit confused at how to take this story. I think that Mr. Hoffman had so much fun writing that he sort of lost his sense of direction. Despite that fact, this was still a very good book. My tastes are odd enough that I can enjoy dark material (depending on the execution), although I am an unrepentant consumer of happy ever after stories. The crucial ingredient that causes me to love a book, or even like it, is a pull towards the characters or the story, and that can overule my desire for happy, sunny reads. In this case, Cale is that sort of character. I listened to this on audio, and I was seduced into a dependence on hearing Cale's story. He's an interesting kid. He scares a lot of people, annoys most others, and inspires a strange sort of loyalty in the rest that they don't quite get, nor does Cale. He's not even the nicest guy. But he shows a sense of honor that causes him to do the right thing, even when his pragmatic nature tells him not to. I hope that he doesn't listen to the junk that the Redeemers seem to want to feed him, about his darkness, his curse, and his true mission. I don't believe that about him at all. I do believe he is a very dangerous person. But why can't that darkness in him be used for good? I think it can.
Towards the end of this book, I listened with a very strong sense of dread. I knew that things weren't going to end well, but I couldn't not listen. I just have to know what is going to happen to Cale. He's important to me, and that means I will be reading the next book: The Last Four Things.
Thoughts on the audiobook narration: The British narrator has a beautiful, smooth voice, with a certain element that lends itself very well to the sinister aspects of this story. He has an ability to employ an almost monotone delivery (lending a paradoxically dark, sharp edge to the violent and also the humorous elements) that he employs in quite the right way to surround the listener with an atmosphere that brings this story to life. I would recommend listening to this book on audio if you can find it.
Recommendation: I would advise those who don't like dark subject matter not to read this novel. However, if you don't enjoy dark stories, but you like very compelling, enigmatic characters, you might find yourself compelled to read it anyway, like I was.
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