Review: Until That Distant Day

Until That Distant Day coverUntil That Distant Day is a historical novel, with a strong thread of romance, written by Jill Stengl, an accomplished author who has previously published a number of romance novels. This particular book is an example of excellent Christian fiction.

The Story. Set in France during the Revolution, the story, told in the first person, opens with the main character, Colette deMar, recounting how she, a rather rebellious sort from childhood, happened to come to Paris.

As befitted her nature and her companions—the brother she was closest to, Pascoe, involved himself as an administrator of one faction of the revolutionaries—she led the women of their section. This involvement meant attending meetings and even demonstrations intended to force the king to accept the authority of the republican assembly.

As the revolution became increasingly violent, however, Colette pulled away from her involvement, and consequently from Pascoe. At the same time, she became increasingly involved in the life and family of her employer, Dr. Sebastian Hillard, a deputy to the National Assembly.

Pascoe, though he had once aspired to be like Dr. Hillard, had a falling out with him and pressured Colette to leave his employ. And so began the great conflict Colette had to resolve or live with on a regular basis.

There is much more to the story: Colette’s other two brothers who are living in Paris–seventeen year old Claude and twenty year old Étienne–Colette’s work as a midwife, her role as companion to Dr. Hilliard’s dauther, her charitable work with the poor in her section, and her love for the home she found where she worked.

Each part weaves together into a whole, undergirded by the events in Paris during the critical summer on 1792 when fear and extremists took over the revolution.

Strengths. Without a doubt, Until That Distant Day is a character driven novel. The plot is certainly interesting, and there’s lots of action, but what makes this story shine is the beautiful depiction of Colette. This protagonist is an interesting young woman, rebellious, hungry for respect and kindness. She has secrets—has reason to warn Dr. Hilliard not to trust her discernment or discretion. She herself has learned to be wary of her passions.

Throughout the story Colette’s strong and compelling voice drives the narrative. The story is interesting because she is interesting, and as a reader, I wanted to know what would happen to her.

The characters weren’t simply central to the story. They were the story. The real conflict centered on how or if they would change, and each of them was so firmly in relationship with the others that the change in one affected change in the others.

Another strength of this novel is the detail incorporated in the story, undoubtedly a result of expert research. Whether the spices used to prepare various foods, the smells of the goat’s pen, the sounds from the blacksmith forge, the feel of the heated kitchen, or the sights of the doctor’s crooked wig, this novel firmly planted the story in 1792 France. Nothing was pretentious or window dressing. All the details were a necessary part of moving the story forward, but they also anchored it firmly in the historical setting.

The thematic development of Until That Distant Day was another strength. The antagonism toward God, the apparent hypocrisy of one avowed atheist, the questions about suffering and evil and God’s place in all of the unfolding developments were handled in a natural, believable way. Taken as a whole they painted a theme grounded in truth but delivered within the confines of the historical setting.

Weaknesses. I don’t know if these are genuine weaknesses, but I had these reactions. At one point I was losing respect for Colette because she seemed too easily charmed. As an independent, rebellious woman, I thought she’d stand up for herself more, that she wouldn’t let herself be manipulated so easily. However, she also self-identified as someone lacking discernment, so in truth she acted in a way that was consistent with her character. I just didn’t like it. But it was short lived and actually served the conflict well.

The other was the use of various French words and phrases. At one point, I wondered if so many were necessary, considering that the characters undoubtedly spoke completely in French, yet the story is written in English. Why not have all of it told in English, I thought. And yet, the French served as a reminder of who these characters were. Most of the meanings I could guess at. Some I would have looked up if I’d realized there was a translation guide in the back. (It’s one of the negatives of reading on an electronic device—not being able to page through the book. And of course I had paged right past the Table of Contents that clearly listed the guide).

Recommendation. From start to finish, I enjoyed Until That Distant Day. More than once since I finished the book, I’ve thought I’d like to know what happened to this character or that. At one place I also thought how perfectly this book showed the flip side of events in one of my favorite novels, The Scarlet Pimpernel. To be honest, the feel of the two books is similar.

I found Colette to be a fascinating character, and I found myself thinking about the French Revolution from a perspective I’d never considered before.

In other words, I am so glad I read this book. I think readers (people who enjoy reading because it’s just fun to learn about people and places and times that are different) will enjoy Until That Distant Day. I think the book is a Must Read for those who love historical fiction, particularly stories set in Europe during the eighteenth century.

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Published in: on May 15, 2014 at 10:56 am  Comments Off on Review: Until That Distant Day  
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