Monday, August 19, 2013

Laurence Cossé's "A Corner of the Veil": Book Review

Very elusive, fittingly or ironically, about the actual proof of God that floors a few Casuists (read: Jesuits) and a French prime minister during the year before Y2K. The Parisian setting is underused, the characters probably stand ins for politicians or pundits that the original audience might recognize, and the tone's droll as you'd expect. Linda Asher's translation captures the worldly-wise ambiance of the original, I assume, and the results entertain.

Able to be perused (small size, big margins) in a single evening, the plot naturally keeps you guessing. As to the proof, the idea that God the Father is exposing Himself by imposing Himself upon man via Christ and the Spirit so people figure out (presumably) that the divine "becoming" permeates all of God's creation sums up the gist of the daring breakthrough. The difficulty is that Laurence Cossé teases us as she does the characters who try to penetrate the mystery of the document's contents. She, too, lifts up the veil's corner but she refuses to let us peek. We must watch others look inside.

This distancing, while it makes sense for her revelations, or their lack for the reader, may please some who wish like some in the pages not to know it all. The advantages of doubt articulated by prominent figures make for an intriguing meditation. I never thought of the shift that would happen if people could know God and how that might diminish rather than increase goodness.

You get some discussion of this scenario as the advisors in elite clerical and state realms battle over the social impacts of this proof. Cossé appears to believe that people would generally favor frugality and compassion, but she along with certain figures warns that brutality and cynicism could grow as "everything is permitted" in the calculating eye of some determined dissenters. I think she gives people too much credit for the positive aspects of a revelation like this, for in a secularized era, it seems many would not fall for this message from above, if theorized by one from below.

It may be a nod to popular sensibilities, but I am unsure the plot needed the thriller aspects that it enters later on. A Corner of the Veil reminded me in its substance, however coyly, of the Jesuit French maverick Teilhard de Chardin's immanent concept of the Incarnation entering the cosmos and the mentality of all created lives and souls. Curious why nobody among the learned mentioned this vision from a bold predecessor who met with his own censure from the powers that be. (Amazon US 5-20-13)

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