One thing that you should know about me is that I, generally speaking, am not a huge fan of fiction. Growing up, I loved to curl up with an American Girl (click here for a blast to the past), Series of Unfortunate Events, or Magic Tree House (this one was my favorite!) book in the little reading nook that I had set up in my bedroom. I’d get lost in a novel for hours, and I’d even reread the ones that I really enjoyed. Even though I grew up loving fiction, I also had a knack for non-fiction. Today, I’m more inclined to read books that are based on fact and real people, places, and events. However, when I heard Beth Moore speak about her first novel, The Undoing of Saint Silvanus, on one of my favorite podcasts, I knew that I had to get my hands on it. Boy howdy – after cruising through all 480 pages of it in two days, I’m so glad that I did. Here’s a little background on her novel, as provided by the book jacket:
Only God knew why Jillian Slater agreed to return to New Orleans on the news that her father had finally drunk himself to death. It’s not like they were close. She hadn’t seen him―or her grandmother, the ice queen―in almost 20 years. But when Adella Atwater, the manager of her grandmother’s apartment house, called and said Jillian’s expenses would be paid if she’d fly in for the burial, a free trip to New Orleans was too intriguing to resist.
What Adella didn’t tell her was that the apartment house wasn’t a house at all and, whatever it was, bore the dead weight of a long and painful history. As soon as Jillian meets the odd assortment of renters and realizes that her grandmother had no idea she was coming, she hatches a plan to escape. But the investigation into her father’s death quickly unfolds and Jillian is drawn into the lives of the colorful collection of saints and sinners who pass through Saint Silvanus. She soon discovers there is more at stake than she ever imagined. Who is behind the baffling messages and the strange relics left on the steps? Is it possible that her family is actually cursed? Or is it just this crazy old house that holds them all under its spell?
Jillian walks into a web of spiritual and personal danger borne out of her family’s broken history, and despite Adella’s wiliest efforts, only God himself can orchestrate the undoing of all that is going on at Saint Silvanus.
Five things I loved about this book:
- The setting. New Orleans – is there anything better? Besides my hometown of Houston, this mystical, vibrant, and historical city is my favorite place on the planet. I like to think that in another life, I definitely lived amongst the art vendors, muffalettas, and second lines in the French Quarter. To ensure that the setting was conveyed accurately, Moore traveled to the Crescent City for research and sought feedback from native New Orleanians. She even interviewed a couple of retired officers from the New Orleans Police Department. Most of the book takes place in the French Quarter and Garden District on and around St. Charles Avenue. From what I could tell, Moore portrayed the city and its geography, culture, and personality pretty darn well.
- It’s thrilling and mysterious aura. For the most part, The Undoing of Saint Silvanus is a murder mystery. It’ll grab you by the throat within the first few pages. There’s little hints of romance, humor, and history, as well. It’s a quirky book that will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat (or couch, if you’re like me).
- The raw, realistic topics brought to attention. Everything from homelessness to substance abuse to treatment of the disabled are touched on throughout the novel. Toxic relationships and emotional abuse seem to be a pretty big theme, as well. Sinful activities are committed, and some characters fall into a spiral of repetition and denial. Personally, I found the inclusion of these topics and situations to be incredibly meaningful to the plot, character development, and humanistic nature of the novel. However, I’ve read a couple of book reviews that suggested otherwise. Those aside, the novel represents a mosaic of human experience, and it would be an injustice to completely ignore the sorrow, celebration, sin, and renewal that occur throughout one’s life. It’s real and it’s raw, and I’m happy they found a place within The Undoing of Saint Silvanus.
- Beth Moore’s writing. Like an iced café au lait with chicory from Café Du Monde, Moore’s prose is full-bodied and smooth. After one glass, you can’t help but ask for another!
- The pace of the storytelling. I didn’t want this book to end. The story is fast-paced but don’t get me wrong – it didn’t leave me in the passenger seat with windblown hair and bugs in my teeth. It moved at a perfect speed, and Moore provided just enough detail to satisfy the reader’s craving for more. Every so many chapters, the main story is paused for a little historical background on the charming yet eerie house of which the book is named, Saint Silvanus (or Saint Sans). I loved gaining more insight on the church-turned-apartment’s tumultuous past, and the side story forced me to take a quick break from the central characters and happenings at hand.
Mackenzie’s Rating: 5/5 – Riveting, introspective, and well-written.
Tell me – are you planning on reading The Undoing of Saint Silvanus? If you’ve already read it, what were some of your favorite takeaways? Who was your favorite character? Write me a comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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