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Charlene Rack reviews the new novel by Catholic writer Michael D. O'Brien.

Over the years, I’ve read quite a few of O’Brien's novels. However, the very first book of his that I came across was a non-fiction treatise on the hidden dangers of modern fiction, particularly in regards to our children: A Landscape with Dragons (1994, Ignatius Press). That book came into my life just as I was laying the groundwork for our family’s “new” home school, and it set me on a course of reliable classic literature for our children’s education (and also for my own personal reading plan!) 

O’Brien weaves incredible fiction stories that are faith based, often part of a series, and usually apocryphal in nature. Some of my “old favorites” of his are A Cry of Stone (2003, Ignatius Press), Island of the World (2007, Ignatius Press), and a book that I just finished reading a few weeks ago, The Father’s Tale (2011, by Ignatius Press). That one took me a while to get through, as it had nearly 1800 pages! 

As I'm a longtime fan of O’Brien, you can understand why I was enthusiastic about reviewing his new book, The Sabbatical (but also relieved to discover that this one is only 375 pages). 


The Sabbatical


The Sabbatical is a story in itself (although a character from The Father’s Tale is mentioned near the end of the book, and I was really glad that I knew who that was, and was aware of the “back story!”). 

In this latest novel from O’Brien, we meet a Catholic man who’s a professor at Oxford University, and his wife -- an older couple, with their children grown and married. O’Brien creates a scenario that could be taking place somewhere in the world right now. We experience the shift away from traditional, Judeo-Christian values, and detect the subtle (or …  maybe not so subtle, as the case may be) coercion of the evil one, with his standard practice of malicious lies and the slaying of innocent lives. 

Dr. Owen and his wife are invited into the inner circle of a staunchly faithful and orthodox group of academics and others, each doing what is within their power to fight the loss of truth. They learn that there are associated dangers of proclaiming that truth, to the point of experiencing the threat of death because of their stance. We meet the entire team and the heroic family at the center of it all, living simply in a mountain hideaway. 

Later, our beloved professor returns alone to the hideaway to finish some editing of the papers and learns just how serious this whole situation is. Through it all, we see God’s sovereign hand over all things, and witness the power of steadfast faith. 

I find it quite a gift to enjoy such riveting fiction, while being drawn into deep reflection on the meaning of life, the power of embraced suffering, and the life of the world to come. It’s an exciting adventure with perdurable perquisites! 

Readers will definitely enjoy this bracing thriller, and will be encouraged throughout by the undercurrent of faith and courage in The Sabbatical. (And afterwards, I suspect you’ll be looking for more Michael O’Brien fiction, if you’re not already a “faithful” follower!)

Copyright 2021 Charlene Rack
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