Review of Madeleine L’Engle’s "A Live Coal in the Sea"

            I struggle in vain to try to find words to articulate my ambivalence about this book. One of the greatest challenges to writing this review is having great familiarity with Madeleine L’Engle’s style of writing. Luckily, the writing itself has brevity, and various  words  in Madeleine L’Engle’s prose seems expertly chosen to evoke a certain emotion. Except, there was something lacking in this particular novel in comparison with some of her best works like A Ring of Endless Light  and A Severed Wasp. Perhaps, the familiarity revolves around the fact that certain tropes from other Madeleine L’Engle novels are slyly reproduced in this book: a chain of incessant drama snakes through an extended family and there are many discussions about the uncontroversial aspect of the relationship between religion and science.
             Relating to the latter point, the discussion about science has been the pivotal reason as to why Madeleine L’Engle’s books have always stood apart from the many “Christian” fiction books that are too formulaic or orthodox. Madeleine L’Engle, like many other inquisitive religious followers, has braved the storm of doubt and posed challenging questions, which many of her coreligionists have never dealt with lightly. In some circumstances, the wild creativity of novels  such as A Wrinkle in Time  was so progressive that some Christians were uncomfortable with a God who was unfettered from our orthodox constraints. Madeleine L’Engle has always pushed God beyond the purview of conformity and conventional thinking. By doing so, she has remained one of my favorite writers.
              Then again, this novel just pales in comparison with her other books that have dealt with the same subject matter before more effectively. Also, the novel provides more story about Camilla Dickinson, from Madeleine L’Engle’s superior book, Camilla. In this book, Camilla has lost her distinct characteristics, and has become an amalgam of various characteristics from earlier female protagonists from her other books.
More importantly, the pacing of this book suffers gravely from the predictability of the story line that has become reproducible. At least, Madeleine L’Engle’s other weak novel, Certain Women,  tried earnestly to differentiate itself from the direction of Madeleine L’Engle’s other novels. While reading this, I just wondered if Madeleine L’Engle  wasn’t as deeply invested in some of her characters as much. Either way, the novel still surpasses some other novels just because Madeleine L’Engle still frames some unorthodox philosophical and spirituality questions that others in her league shy away from asking. In comparison with some of her other novels though, this one is very weak and some parts appear muddled, as though Madeleine L’Engle momentarily lost interest in the characters. Again, I recommend her masterpieces The Small Rain  and A Severed Wasp, if you are looking for examples of her best adult books.

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