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Mara is not what you would class a typical student....
Friendly? Far from it.
Enthusiastic? Certainly not.
Keen on socialising? No way!
In fact, she is the complete opposite and is seemingly depressed, angry and severely introverted. From the blurb on the back of the book the reader is instantly aware that she is suffering following involvement in an extreme religious sect.
Having recently undertaken a theology degree to try to achieve some kind of resolve in her life, Mara doesnt seem to be coping with the situation very well. Although she is a very intelligent young woman, she lacks the social skills needed to meet people and make friends. This is due to the barrier that she has created to protect herself from others and their possible influences. This creates awkward moments as she appears to be arrogant in the presence of her fellow students and tutors. To be blunt, she comes across as being rather rude with a major attitude problem!
The problem is that Mara has lost the ability to know how to react in certain situations and she talks to people in a way which is not appropriate: certainly not as an introduction to strangers. But sadly, she cant help it.
Although Mara is somewhat of a prickly and ascerbic protagonist, she is still such a likeable character. This is because right from the start of the book, her character is uncovered as her thoughts and memories reveal snippets of her past and details of what happened to her. We learn about the relationships shes had with her mother and father (whos a vicar) over the years, plus details of a dark secret regarding her twin sister are revealed. Thus having the effect of explaining how turbulent experiences in her life have shaped her thoughts, eventually forcing her current defensive personality to emerge. It makes her apparent grief and questionable beliefs so much more understandable and her behaviour easier to accept.
Mara prefers to be by herself, keeping people at arms length. She goes to the extent of making a vow at the start of term to remain alone, not allowing herself to get close to anyone. She is very visual and finds comfort in drawing throughout the novel - sketching things that are on her mind as a release. Her illustrations have a certain amount of significance to her thought processes and she finds it a therapeutic form of communication with her inner self.
Angels and Men is ultimately a fun book about student life but this just acts as a platform for various recurring themes such as the complex nature of human relationships. It also explores the subject of faith, and the clashes between feminism and Christianity as they have an impact on the main character.
This novel is in no way supernatural but the possibility of angelic influences is also discussed and taken quite seriously by the characters. Interwoven with the main story as an underlying theme is this thought provoking subject. Some of the characters consider that when they have been given a vital insight or challenged in some way, that they might not have been addressed from within their own thoughts but from without....messages from angelic beings. This isnt as deep as it sounds though and doesnt overpower the story. It just adds an extra element, creating even more depth to the tale.
I am not religious at all but yet I knew that these themes would be covered in the story. In fact, I expected the book to be more heavy on the theology side than it actually turned out to be. Its not the kind of subject that would usually attract me but Im so glad it did.
Its a wonderful story - the University and its surroundings are beautifully descriptive, the whole atmosphere has a richness of detail and I imagine it to have been captured perfectly. Most importantly, the characters are so vivid with superb dialogues. Each one developed in their own individual way with details of their lives also emerging.
The whole book is simply but effectively structured and its also well paced. It had me gripped and interested to know what would happen next. I actually cared about the characters and hoped that they could find what they were searching for.
Despite her original plan Mara finds that she doesnt have much choice when it comes to meeting new people. The book follows her developing friendships, acquaintances and relationships as she settles in and gets to know a small selection of people....slowly letting the barriers down. Will she fully recover from her self-inflicted isolation?
I believe that there are two sequels to Angels and Men that progress to view Mara from two different perspectives. I cant wait to read them!
Published by: Penguin Books
Cover price: £5.99
A novel about the lives and loves of students in a theological college. Mara is an angry and intelligent young woman who undertakes a theology degree to explore her unresolved relationship with her vicar father and deceased sister, who dies mysteriously in an extreme religious community.