Tales from Lindford, by Catherine Fox

This is the second of two books that, for me, were the best possible literary summations of 2020 and the best possible answer to “should writers write about the pandemic?” (the other being the last book I wrote about, The Anthropocene Reviewed). This book, Tales from Lindford, is far more directly a “pandemic book” than the other one was, being a novel both written and set in 2020, posted on the author’s blog in installments almost in real time, then crafted into its final book form for release in May 2021.

That being said, when author Fox decided to revisit the characters from her Lindchester trilogy (one of my favourite book series of recent years), Covid-19 was just one of many worries hovering in the background, one of many things that might affect her characters in 2020 along with Brexit, the US elections, and all the everyday cares and worries of daily life. Reports of a worrying new virus were, as the narrator suggests early in the book, distant hoofbeats of a possibly apocalyptic horseman.

As the year and the story unfolded, the clergy and laypeople of the diocese of Lindchester, like the rest of us, ended up spending far more time isolated in their homes than anyone could have imagined. Keeping characters physically isolated and unable to spend time together no doubt posed a narrative challenge, but it’s one that Fox rises to brilliantly, using her characters’ 2020 stories as a vehicle to explore all the things explored in her previous stories — love, faith, fear, the power of connections both human and divine in a world of conflict, fear and uncertainty. But in this book, the quiet adventures of Freddie and Ambrose, Matt and Jane, Father Dominic and his aging mother, and especially (as they are central to the narrative), teenage Leah, pre-teen Jess, and their estranged parents Martin and Becky — and all the rest of the characters — play out against the backdrop of the pandemic. The 2020 setting heightens and sharpens questions about what it means to be a person of faith, or a person without religious faith but with faith in humanity. What does it mean to be the church when church doors are closed? How do we reach out to others when we can’t reach out physically? Tales from Lindford offers insight, humour, wry social commentary, and more than a few tears, as the characters travel through the unexpected twists and turns of 2020. I enjoyed every bit of the ride, both when I read them in serial blog form, and when I sat down and read through the entire finished book.

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