Virgin & Child by Maggie Hamand – humanity and faith in an engaging book of big questions


There is a new Pope in this strangely moving and intensely thoughtful book. Pope Patrick is the first Irish Pope in hundreds of years, but apart from retaining his own name he is determined to uphold a vital church teaching on abortion and much else. This is a book which takes a fantastic idea and makes it realistic by the small details, the memories and the anxieties which everyone faces. It has much to say about the Vatican but in such a way that makes it human rather than splendid. Patrick is the central character, but we feel his every emotion, follow his thoughts and see what he sees just as surely as if he had narrated it. The people around him are carefully described in enormous detail as they confront him, talk to him and mix awe of his papacy with real human emotions. There is so much to consider in this powerful novel which is strangely compelling in its unique set of themes. I was intrigued and pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book.


Patrick views an early public appearance as Pope with some trepidation. His attention is sought by women who have much to say on the papal and Catholic Church’s attitude to pregnancy, termination and lost babies. This is given an identity when he is verbally and physically attacked by a lone woman who has a strange effect on his thoughts. Not that he is allowed to dwell on any one thing for long, as he is besieged by Cardinals, press officers and other men who feel they know best. He struggles to maintain his own humanitarian views, his own perspective on questions of faith, but soon a series of traumatic revelations which make him question everything. As he flounders for guidance and certainty in his faith, he is confronted by the past and present in many disturbing ways. 


On a brief trip home to Ireland he discovers more about his past and reflects on his life, as he discovers more about family and friends. That he is shocked by revelations is carefully handled as some of them explain much about his perceptions and indeed faith. As tension grows in this book, the suspense is very human and well handled in the context of Vatican politics.


This is a book of humanity and faith. It has much to say about the politics of  an establishment when tested by humanity in the shape of one individual. This is an engaging read which really provokes thought in so many ways, painful and otherwise. As issues of contemporary life are confronted from a position of faith and humanity, there is so much to consider in this book which gives a human face to the great questions of the day. It is a moving book in so many ways, as the reader follows Patrick’s progress through so many dilemmas. A challenging and worthwhile read, there is so much weight to a book which draws attention to some of the most basic questions of life and ultimately love.  


This is a very different book from others I have reviewed here – there is quite a variety on this site!  A friend just texted me to enquire whether I was worried about running out of books. Happily this is not an imminent worry, if only because I have two book trollies with some tempting books on them. Apparently there are now eighty four British Library Crime Classics books out – I could start a re read if all else fails…