Through previous readings, this reader has encountered provocative theories that suggest that it was religious reformation that freed human thought from church dogma thus giving rise to individualism, which subsequently paved the way for the Renaissance; and also theories of the aftermath of the Black Death setting the scene for capitalism by overthrowing social systems including feudalism.
The Protestant Reformation erupted in the 1500s, the Black Death in the 1300s. Ben Hopkins’ novel of six hundred and twenty four pages begins in the 1200s, but through its characters, we already witness the gradual ascent of mercantile capitalism and individualism challenging the hegemony of the Catholic Church.
But thankfully, these big words and the sophisticated ideas that are attached to them are not heaped too heavily on the reader’s shoulders. The author seems to have employed his filmmaking expertise by creating a well-paced and entertaining book with a handful of dramatic imagery and contrasting characters across the broad spectrum of society, but which also carries so much understanding of the religious and socioeconomic landscape of a particular European period.
In the midst of it all, the Cathedral — or more accurately, the construction of the Cathedral — that remains unfinished and continues to be built even by the end of this novel. This novel that begins in 1229 and ends in 1351. This Cathedral that symbolizes a number of things.
In this story there is clearly the aspect of the historical, or the architectural, but which should always lead one to contemplate on the personal — the edifices that we build for ourselves. And because we already know how certain it is that we can carry nothing out, what do we leave behind?
To quote a cherished character who passed away by the the shores of Constantinople, “A man can die anywhere. It’s all the same. The only important thing is how he lives.”
2 thoughts on “Ben Hopkins: Cathedral”
Beautiful review, Mira! This book looks very fascinating, especially because of the historical backdrop! Loved these lines from your review – “And because we already know how certain it is that we can carry nothing out, what do we leave behind?” So beautiful! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊 Will add this book to my list.
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Indeed! It’s quite an easy read, too, for a book this thick! Thanks, Vishy! Hope to read your thoughts on it one day! 😊
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