Colm Toibin on To the End of the Land

This NYT Review of To the End of the Land by David Grossman makes me want to pick up the ARC I have in the TBR pile and start reading. But to be frank, I am not sure I have the time or energy for a 576 page book touching on such serious/emotional subjects.

Here is a taste of the review:

It is a testament to Grossman’s novelistic talent, indeed perhaps his genius, that “To the End of the Land” manages to create and dramatize a world that gives both the reality and the echo their full due. He weaves the essences of private life into the tapestry of history with deliberate and delicate skill; he has created a panorama of breathtaking emotional force, a masterpiece of pacing, of dedicated storytelling, with characters whose lives are etched with extraordinary, vivid detail. While his novel has the vast sweep of pure tragedy, it is also at times playful, and utterly engrossing; it is filled with original and unexpected detail about domestic life, about the shapes and shadows that surround love and memory, and about the sharp and desperate edges of loss and fear.

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

A week or so ago I promised as a service to my readers to referee the dueling New York Times reviews of  Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. Put aside the fact that one was technically in the New York Times Review of Books and the other in the paper – or the fact that they were not really side by side reviews – and focus instead on the very different reaction the book produced.

But first, let’s allow the publisher to introduce the book:

Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 letter from the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent plunges Evangeline into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim.

For the secrets these letters guard are desperately coveted by the once-powerful Nephilim, who aim to perpetuate war, subvert the good in humanity, and dominate mankind. Generations of angelologists have devoted their lives to stopping them, and their shared mission, which Evangeline has long been destined to join, reaches from her bucolic abbey on the Hudson to the apex of insular wealth in New York, to the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and the mountains of Bulgaria.

This was in fact the blurb that intrigued me enough to read the book (generously provided by the publisher in this case). But the same book produced two very different reactions.

Janet Maslin calls it “a class-obsessed, scholarship-spouting, minutiae-strewn thrill ride that follows the ‘Da Vinci Code’ model as loftily as it can.”

In contrast, Susan Cokal: “Sensual and intellectual, “Angelology” is a terrifically clever thriller — more Eco than Brown, without the cloudy sentimentalism of New Age encomiums or Catholic treatises.”

So if I had to choose side in this debate who would I declare the winner? I would have to side with Cokal but I can understand where Maslin is coming from to a degree.

More below.

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Dueling Reviews: Angelology

Susan Cokal in the NYTBR:

Sensual and intellectual, “Angelology” is a terrifically clever thriller — more Eco than Brown, without the cloudy sentimentalism of New Age encomiums or Catholic treatises. It makes no apologies for its devices, and none are necessary. How else would it be possible to bring together the angels of the Bible and Apocrypha, the myth of Orpheus, Bulgarian geography, medieval monastics, the Rockefellers, ­Nazis, nuns and musicology? And how splendid that it has happened.

And Janet Maslin in the NYT:

These details are brought to mind by Ms. Trussoni’s first novel, “Angelology,” a class-obsessed, scholarship-spouting, minutiae-strewn thrill ride that follows the “Da Vinci Code” model as loftily as it can. In fathoming the grandiosity of Ms. Trussoni’s escapism, maybe it helps to recall the world from which she had to escape.


This novel is neck deep in mumbo jumbo and will do its tireless best to conflate fact and fiction. Obscure theories? Nonexistent historical events? Exact anatomical details about otherworldly beings? Complaints about the naysayers who have “distorted angelic reality”? Yes, “Angelology” has them all.

Confused? Never fear, dear reader, Angelology is in the TBR pile. In the not too distant future I will offer what I am sure will be the definitive take on this polarizing novel …