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Book Review: The Dry Wood By Caryll Houselander

This is a guest post by our daughter Clara Rose Vincent who wrote this book review as part of her college entrance application. This book is my favorite novel after The Lord Of the Rings. It is a short and easy to read book in spite of its profound content, perfect for young adults. Click on the image above purchase.

The Dry Wood by Caryll Houselander, written in 1947, is the beautiful tale of Willie Jewel a little boy doomed from birth to suffer for a short time and then die a painful death. He is an example of Christ, the sacrificed lamb. Houselander shows how through his suffering and death many people are drawn from sin to Christ.

Fr. O'Grady the priest of a London slum parish is succeeding Fr. Murphy who's recent death caused the people of his parish to demand canonization. Needing a miracle, the people start a novena to the Mother of God for the recovery of the dying Willie.

Each chapter focuses on a person from a different walk of life who has a particular personal battle with sin. In each situation Fr. O'Grady comes as the Good Shepherd tirelessly working to bring his lost sheep home. By listening to the sorrows of his parishioners without any thought for himself Fr. O'Grady emerges as a saint in his own right.

Caryll Houselander puts together a story that is not only a novel, but a theological and poetic work of art. She describes each person and his or her situation and how each soul mirrors a different weakness of original sin that is in all of us.

Carmel Fernandez is a lost child, fallen from grace, who hides away at the house of the Solly Lee, a lonely rich man, who takes young girls into his house and gives them fine clothes and food, but steals their innocence. Carmel leaves Solly to take care of the dying child and in the end is moved to seek forgiveness from her earthly Father and heavenly Father.

Rose O'Shane who's fine clothes and walk show a once grand past, works and prays hard all day, but every night is drawn into the tavern to drink away her hard earnings. For the sake of Willie she stops drinking and uses the money saved to bring flowers to the child.

Timothy Green, a young newspaper reporter writing about the canonization of Fr. Murphy, finds himself involved in the novena and is started on the path to conversion.

In each person's story, Houselander integrates the scriptures and shows the remarkable comparison between what is talked about in scripture and what is happening in the modern world. She creates poetic passages comparing the trials of biblical characters to the characters in each chapter.

In the fates of her characters Houselander pinpoints the corruption of humanity in the modern day. Such as abortion, atheism and communism and the beauty of humanity that is in every day. Such as the newly converted Timothy who sacrifices himself for the conversion of his communist friend or Carmel's father who is finally taught to give love. The great battle that is fought between good and evil and how the decision of even the seemingly most insignificant human being can be the deciding factor between victory or defeat. The fight that goes on in every heart each in its own way.

Houselander describes how, praying for Willie, everyone's perspective is changed, the sunshine is brighter, the flowers are more colorful and every man and every women is more content with their position in life. They forget about themselves in giving themselves to Willie.

The Dry Wood is a gold-mine of food for thought. It leaves the reader to ponder the mystery of life, appreciate the beauty of life and mourn the tragedies of life. It opens the reader's eyes to how the simple and ordinary world is a great search of individual souls longing to find union with God and eternal life with him in heaven. Through her enthralling story-telling, Caryll Houselander leaves the reader with a greater appreciation of God's plan for humanity and with the realization of how little we know or will ever know of how God's love works through our sorrows and failures.

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