This may be the hardest review I’ve ever had to write for Austin CNM. It’s not my last (unless the Lord knows something I don’t), and it’s not because I don’t know how to express myself here. It’s because I’m not quite sure how I can impress upon you the importance of this book and my enthusiasm that you read it—and soon.
Despite my two English degrees and two years of teaching English, I struggle greatly with complex literature. It’s one of my biggest sources of shame. I miss symbolism all the time. Allegories can be lost on me. I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia and did not know it was an allegory for salvation history!
That early misstep did not turn me off to C.S. Lewis, though, as you can tell from the many books of his I’ve reviewed:
Today, I bring my journey through his major nonfiction works to a close with The Great Divorce. Unlike my last review (in which I clarified that The End of the Affair is about an actual affair), The Great Divorce is not about divorce. That is just the awkward chronological pairing my reading habits have caused. The Great Divorce will cause you to rethink many of your assumptions about heaven, hell, and judgment. It will spur your assessment of which side of the line your actions are leading you toward.
It took a few chapters for me to get into this book, which was unusual. As the story became clearer and I understood more, though, I couldn’t keep reading fast enough. The unnamed protagonist finds himself in line, waiting for the bus on a gray day. He doesn’t know where the bus is going, but he knows he wants to take the ride. A long while later, the bus has risen upward into the sky, far above where he lives. The light is bright in this new place, and all around is open sky. In the new place, he is just a ghost, but the local inhabitants are solid and real. He even walks with great difficulty while the locals pass by easily. As he journeys slowly through the land, he encounters a number of people, each with a different situation that speaks to him and to us as readers. They are like scenes from life (if not ours, then those that could certainly be real), and they are warnings.
The vignettes relayed as the protagonist journeys are the centerpiece of the novel and, for me, what made the whole thing worth reading. We see a woman who loved her son with all her strength, but what of her God? An intellectualist meets his old comrade, now converted, but will he open his eyes to the truth? When the voice of temptation meets the force of God’s angels, will the one who is tempted be strong enough to let light in? It’s so hard to describe the power of each of these scenes (not to mention all the others). You will have to read them for yourself.
So many people don’t believe that hell exists, but many more do believe that heaven does, and that they will go there after death. Where do you stand? What are you clinging to that will make you hold yourself back from grace? There is a great divide between good and evil, between heaven and hell. Choose as you will. On either side is eternity.
Featured image from Unsplash.