It’s book group tonight. I have missed the last two meetings. In January I was at the panto, in February I was in Ireland. Just as well I haven’t doublebooked myself this month as the book was my choice. It’s a novel by Sarah Moss called The Tidal Zone. I believe I wrote about here when I first read it last summer. It was my book of 2016, and it’s definitely in my current top ten of all time favourites.
The novel is written from the viewpoint of Adam, a stay at home dad and part time academic. I’m not going to go into the plot of the whole novel, just say that Adam’s current academic project is researching the rebuilding of Coventry cathedral which was lost in the bombing of the Second World War.
The writing is luminous, the descriptions of how the cathedral came to be rebuilt through the passion and vision of its architect Basil Spence, breathtaking. The project was an act of faith, and finishing the novel I knew I needed to make the long neglected trip to the Midlands to see it.
I went on Tuesday. Somehow I had imagined all of Coventry to have flattened during the war, so the streets and buildings that survived were a welcome surprise. I took my time, made my way across the city, circled the cathedral’s exterior, ate the lunch I had brought with me in sunshine. The glimpses of the jeweled glass I had seen through an open door on the north side were enough to tell me I shouldn’t be disappointed.
Whether I should have loved it so much had I not read The Tidal Zone I don’t know. Certainly passages from the novel echoed in my head as I walked around, the way Spence wanted the cathedral to reveal itself gradually, so that the glass in all its gorgeous glory is only appreciated as you move from west to east.
The huge tapestry of Christ in Majesty by Graham Sutherland covers the whole of the east wall. I didn’t know the eagle lectern was by Elizabeth Frink until I read the guide book. But I knew I was looking at something extraordinarily beautiful, extraordinarily powerful.
Coventry Cathedral has its gainsayers: too modern, brutal, even ugly. I am not one of them. To me, this is one of the most astounding church buildings I have set foot inside; it’s humbling, awe-inspiring, it makes you raise your eyes and consider the faith of its makers.
Maybe at tonight’s meeting The Tidal Zone will be metaphorically trashed. I hope not. I hope I am not going to spend the time defending, upholding, championing, because rather like the cathedral, I believe it is a book that rises above much else in book shops and libraries today, and to read it is to be enriched.