Title: The Countenance Divine
Author: Michael Hughes
Publication Date: Thursday 11th August
Publisher: John Murray
In 1999 a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can’t shake the sense he’s been chosen for something.
In 1888, five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master.
In 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.
And in 1666, poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later.
But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end?
Note: I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The Countenance Divine follows several narratives spanning over 4 centuries, beginning with computer programmer Chris in 1999. Chris works with a team of people trying to fix the millennium bug (a technical glitch that was predicted to end the world). It then connects with stories going back as far as the 1600s: poet John Milton in 1666, engraver William Blake in 1777 and an odd depiction of Jack the Ripper 1888.
I’m usually someone who loves multiple perspectives so I was interested to read this when I saw the blurb. I enjoyed reading the section of the story from the perspective of Chris, the computer programmer in 1999. His character was interesting and mysterious I liked the contemporary way that it was written. Introductions of some other even more mysterious characters like Lucy added some intrigue to the story too.
The other sections, however, I found harder to read – I began doing what I usually condemn and I skipped some chapters simply because I struggled to know what was going on. This may be down to the language used; I’m not a fan of reading old-fashioned English so this is entirely a personal issue. I just didn’t really see how the other sections completely contributed to the story which may be down to my lack of understanding. It sometimes just felt a bit long-winded and rambly and I didn’t feel very motivated to carry on with it. The sections set in 1999 helped me to carry on though so I could see what happened.
Another thing that confused me a little and broke the flow of the story was the change in writing style in each section. The narrative from 1888 was possibly the strangest – it was written is improperly spelt English, like the writer wasn’t educated. It was hard to tell if this person was Jack the Ripper or an assistant or apprentice of Jack the Ripper; whoever he was, the descriptions of him killing women around London were grotesque and no details were left out, which I liked – it was shocking and very interesting to read.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get into this book as much as I’d hoped when I read the description; I loved the sound of it and was intrigued by the premise but for me personally it didn’t grip me. There were sections of the book that I enjoyed such as the Chris’ narrative and the very odd letters from the time of Jack the Ripper, but I couldn’t keep up with the constant dramatic change in writing style and language.
Try this book if…
You like strange mysteries, a lot of characters and perspectives, and varying writing styles. If you enjoy reading older English then that’s definitely a bonus because it’ll probably be more enjoyable for you! Also a good read if you’re interested in the Millenium Bug of 1999/2000 – this book gives an interesting perspective on it.