It’s been a while since I posted a book review, but I believe it’s been well worth the wait when it comes to this beauty.
Tom Hillingthwaite a hapless man who is sent by an evangelical agency called Jesus4All (formerly the Turn or Burn Coalition) to leave his life in a safe place and go into the ‘urban sprawl of Bruton’ and get people into the Kingdom. It explores his efforts to make connections and the bungling that takes place time after time as he struggles (and fails) to give anything like the good news to this tough turf. He does this as well as endeavours to allow his wife, child and cat
The writer, Andy Kind, is a stand-up comedian too. This is his third book and it is clear he has found his niche in writing funny material.
The novel works well on many levels. First and foremost this is a comedy novel. Even if you had no interest at all in Christianity, the book is compelling because it’s a tale of a hapless bungler haplessly bungling and that requires humour and this book has it in spades. Kind is skilled at conjuring various metaphors and cultural references together in the narrative that even had me laughing loudly in the most awkward places. (Warning do not read this book whilst trying to look normal on a train ride home.)
This book could have been based on two dimensional characters who are used to set up comedy pieces. What makes some of the humour clever, however, is that the main characters are not caricatures. The comedy is just as much about how painful it is for very real characters going through various challenges.
It is a funny book, but it is not just for laughs. There are very moving scenes depicted in this book that reminds you that this bungler is looking to affect lives for the better and there are issues that surround that. Some of the characters involved truly show an acute awareness of the human condition.
Something else that is also very clever about the book is that there are elements of a mystery involved in the story. It by no means pretends to be an Agatha Christie thriller, but one of the beautiful things about the book is how it makes you laugh and gets you thinking.
The premise, however, remains about someone commissioned to be a ‘community builder’ and tell people about God. Unsurprisingly, then, Christians can tap into aspects of the mission in this book. Of all the remarkable elements of this book is the deft manner in which Kind presents different aspects of Christian experience and is still effective in getting across some of the amazing things about God. Again, he doesn’t fall for all stereotypes and caricatures in some of the characters that poor Tom comes across.
People will look at the book cover and think this is a children’s book. I can assure you the material in the book is definitely pitched at an older audience. Having said that, there’s nothing in it that would offend people in terms of it’s language. Though it should make believers uncomfortable if they have settled for a dogmatic approach to expressing what it is to follow Jesus in different contexts.
The themes of grace, redemption and hope are pervasive through the book. This should bring confidence to anyone reading it and sympathising with the sense of despair that being any kind of witness of Jesus can bring. That the book can touch on these issues without overtly posturing on ‘the way’ is a wise approach which allows it to be accessible to a wider audience.
I highly recommend this book to you and your friends. Anything that can make you laugh, think, laugh, reflect, laugh, cry and then laugh again and eager to find out more, it is very much worth the read. This excellent novel will certainly do that.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden