I have just finished my at-least-yearly re-read of the novels of Catherine Fox and I’ve been thinking about why I like them so much.
For many years, I named the same three novels as my favourites – Good Omens, High Fidelity and Microserfs (we can talk another time about what that says about gender). Then I realised that they had been overtaken. Catherine Fox’s three novels – in a genre that I don’t think I like that much (romantic fiction) – had been notching up re-read after re-read. I almost know every word. They are tremendously comforting, and, even after these years, still a bloody good read.
The best of the three (to my mind) is the first one – Angels and Men. It’s a university novel with all the best stuff of university novels – unwise romances, breakdowns, existential crises, hidden pasts. But it also ties in with quite deep ideas about religion and identity. Like a clever, interesting friend, it drops in little bits of information – in this case about religious revivals and the role of women in the church. And the fact that it’s set in Durham means that I can vividly picture all the locations.
I realised halfway through the recent reading binge that one of the reasons I’d been re-reading this time was that I was gearing up to write romantic fiction for a month. But when re-reading Angels and Men, I realised that I’d forgotten what a really good novel it is, regardless of genre. The writing, the pacing, the ideas all make up something excellent.
The second book, The Benefits of Passion, is more of a rollicking-good-read sort of book, about a woman training for the ministry who gets pregnant outside marriage. The character is also writing whatever the modern equivalent of a bodice-ripper is, which keeps things fairly light, although there are serious moments.
The third book, Love for the Lost, I really enjoyed for its depiction of parish life and how it brings together and develops characters from the previous books, although it could definitely stand alone if you hadn’t read the others. Occasionally it seems that there are too many interlaced events and coincidences, and then I remember that this is set in the Church of England. It’s really not surprising that everyone knows each other.
For years I’ve been moaning about Catherine Fox not writing any more novels (she’s been publishing factual stuff about her life as a vicar’s wife). I just googled her and found her blog and now I feel guilty, curious and a little disappointed. Guilty because she says she has been writing novels, they just haven’t made it out into the world (there I was, thinking she just couldn’t be arsed). Curious and a bit disappointed because she has just finished another novel (excitement builds)… but it’s a fantasy detective novel! I don’t know what to think about that! But then, I suppose I thought I didn’t much like romantic fiction…