The Castle of Heavenly Bliss
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist
AD2000 A Journal of Religious Opinion
Unlike most books these days dealing with Christianity and the Catholic Church – notably The Da Vinci Code – The Castle of Heavenly Bliss incorporates strong accurate presentations of Church doctrines and practices within its absorbing plot. In effect, it represents a strong counter to the Gnostic, feminist elements promoted in The Da Vinci Code.
Despite its rather daunting length, The Castle of Heavenly Bliss is a good read, with an engrossing storyline, vivid descriptive writing and striking scene and character depictions. The scenes are set in a variety of locations, from rural Victoria and urban Melbourne to Paris and the Dutch Province of Zeeland.
More traditionally inclined Catholic readers will not only enjoy the plot and how the pieces finally fall into place but no doubt welcome the sympathetic and prominent place given to Church teachings, practices and traditions. Less committed readers may find the somewhat proselytising style of these intrusive or off-putting.
GOOD AND EVIL
The novel takes its cue from certain 19th century novels as well as epics like The Lord of the Rings where the line between good and evil is sharply drawn. As in Dickens’ works, the good seem too good to be true, and the bad too bad to be true. But this serves the present novel’s purpose and will no doubt be a refreshing contrast for many readers to the moral relativism that dominates our secular culture and much of its literature.
One hopes the book may win some converts to the Catholic view among less committed readers, but my feeling is that its main attraction will be for the already converted – particularly traditional Catholics.
The Castle of Heavenly Bliss is a monumental and commendable effort by one of our local Catholic writers and deserves to be well supported. Gerard Wilson has considerable skills as a novel writer, reminding one at times of Malachi Martin whose books, despite their sprawling length, generally hold the reader’s attention to the end as this one does.
(The extensive text revision for the 2018 edition aimed at correcting the faults pointed to in this review. In particular, the weaknesses in Estella’s character implied in the first edition were brought out in the revised 2018 edition. Gerard Charles Wilson)
The Castle of Heavenly Bliss
Reviewed by Hedda Dooley
The Dutch Courier
PO Box 169
Olinda VIC 3788
This is the first of a planned trilogy written in the Catholic/Christian genre. This style of writing generally does not appeal to me. However, I decided to give The Castle of Heavenly Bliss a try.
The story begins in a small country town of north-western Victoria called Binawarra. The narrative then moves to Middelburg in Holland. Having lived in both Australia and Holland myself, I found the scene depictions brilliantly written. Ranging from the harsh Australian summer to riding a bike in the cold ‘Hollandse’ winter, the author’s explanations are rather familiar to me and bring back fond memories. The range of characters in the novel are also cleverly thought up and explained in explicit detail.
The novel employs a deep philosophical aspect, not just about the different beliefs and religions but also delves into topics such as what is beauty and truth, giving a detailed analysis of these. Incorporating these philosophies into a novel is not an easy thing to accomplish. Therefore I congratulate Wilson on doing a marvellous job on the writing of The Castle of Heavenly Bliss.
I found The Castle of Heavenly Bliss slow to get going, perhaps too much detail in some parts, but once the story develops and the various plots begin to take shape, I found myself in situations whereby I could not put the book down and realised then the much given detail is necessary for the reader to get an accurate picture of the complex events which take place. The narrative really comes together in the end, leaving the reader with many things to think about.
THRILLS AND REVERENCE IN TANDEM
A review of
The Castle of Heavenly Bliss
by Ian MacDonald
Annals Australasia Journal of catholic Culture
PO Box 13 Kensington NSW 2033
GERARD Charles Wilson has written a novel of epic scope set in contrasting locations. First, the Victorian country – town, Binawarra, dominated by a peak known to the locals as Death Rock. Second, Middelburg in the Dutch Province of Zeeland, dominated by the eponymous castle on Walcheren.
The sinister, bitter character linking these locations is Gerda Vrouwendijk who arrives at the Binawarra High School disguised as Edith Bicknell, multi-lingual teacher with specialist qualifications in student counselling.
She is taken at face value by the genial, hardworking headmaster Bill Huckerby and his charming wife Joanne. But Vrouwendijk/Bicknell has more in mind than counselling unruly students. She has a specific target: one of the students, Estella Winterbine, beautiful and of formidable virtue, closely protected by her parents, the local carpenter Charles Winterbine, and his wife, the angelic, blue-eyed Aine (nee O’Riordan).
In these three, the author essays one of the most difficult tasks in literature: the portrayal of goodness, even saintliness. To assist them, he creates the tough-minded, incomer Englishwoman Florence Barker, trailing hints of having worked for the secret service, and the crippled Dutch priest, Father Jos van Engelen, whose work included service in New Guinea with an order not unlike the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
He is also cross-linked to a post-World War II episode with Vrouwendijk in which the defeated Nazi opened fire on civilians.
Ingeniously, Wilson shows how the hidden currents, hostilities and petty snobberies beneath the benign surface of a town like Binawarra can be manipulated by a person of ill-will, especially one like Vrouwendijk/Bicknell, to blackmail the local newspaper editor. She is backed by Boris, a mercenary with Balkan-Muslim connections and the influence of a rich and covert international organisation for whom Estella is a sought-after prize.
Here an intrepid hero is called for; Wilson introduces him in the person of Geoffrey Shawcross, a quiet local farmer who is also an ex-Vietnam veteran of the Special Air Service Regiment. He protects and falls in love with Estella.
With the main plot the author meshes two sub-plots: One, the attempt by some of her fellow students to seduce Estella and, two, Fr van Engelen’s conflict with those who take a more extreme view of renewal processes initiated by Vatican II than he does.
As the narrative moves to its climax in The Castle of Heavenly Bliss, Shawcross deploys his SAS skills to rescue Estella and the author reveals the nature of the secret organisation – one readers may find reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Priory of Sion in The Da Vinci Code.
Unlike the latter, this is a thriller of reverence for the Catholic faith as well as a scholarly novel of ideas and theology. It runs to 752 pages and is the first in what is scheduled to be a trilogy.
Like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens and any number of more recent authors, Wilson is his own publisher. At not a few points, there are signs he has essayed the more difficult challenge of being his own editor. Paradoxically the ease of computer editing makes this process more difficult. Too often Wilson, the author-editor, slows the drive of his undoubtedly imaginative plot lines with redundant material and above all by blurring and fudging his chapter breaks.
The exemplary work here is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Waugh was a film buff and wrote his chapters as cinematic cuts. Result: despite an expensive script by John Mortimer, the classic television version of Brideshead Revisited was shot from the book not the script.
The Castle of Heavenly Bliss
Reviewed by Ann ‘Joy for Life’
December 25, 2012
‘Deep, compelling story of good and evil’
The battle of good and evil take unusual manifestations in the Castle of Heavenly Bliss. For a long time the characters are clouded, and the motives and methods are obscure. The action picks up and I became almost breathless as the conclusion was reached. I’d love to discuss this book. It certainly did remind me of the grandiose plots of Dan Brown. But from the other side. This author recasts the good and evil sides in the battle.
The main setting is Australia from the 1950s through the 1970s. A strong second location is in the Netherlands.
The devotion to God by Aine and Charles, and their daughter was deep and abiding. However, the labeling of things as evil, or temptation seems a little too overboard. The disparaging thoughts about teen boys and the sexual attractions occurring at puberty were contrasted to our ‘heroines’ complete vacancy of feelings in that department. Their bodies didn’t stir until presented with the mate God had chosen. Innocence means ignorance of these feelings.
The side of evil is portrayed as homosexual, pagan, occultist, misleading, and vicious. Surprisingly, Vatican II is a threatening occurrence where ‘reforms’ are going to destroy the church. Somehow reforms were attacks of society-blinded clergy to destroy the church. The changes in the liturgy [notably using the congregation’s language, turning the altar to face the people,and such] are minimized and the compelling image is of mimes and provocative dancers desecrating the Mass. I lived through those time in a very ‘progressive’ parish and it all was aimed at furthering a relationship with Jesus. It was unusual, and often useless, but never a desecration. The objections to the whole council shouldn’t be based on that image.
Feminism is also cast as an evil temptation for women to abandon God. It is portrayed as a Gnostic heresy, where if women only knew the truth of their bondage they’d dump the church and its oppression. Maybe radical feminism did that, but it also helped shine the light on systemic ways that society and the church failed the women of the world.
Even the opposition to the Vietnamese war was cast as a tool for evil to prevail. Not the war itself, but the protesters.
The author paints with a broad brush, from depth of knowledge certainly, but too black and white. Perhaps this is the author’s right, after all it is his story, but I struggled with that a lot.
Of course, I had to buy his other book In This Vale of Tears. Just started it.
Ann ‘Life is Joy, Amazon.com, December 25, 2012
Amazon Review Five star review