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The Time Before You Die: A Novel of the Reformation

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This historical novel, set in the traumatic sixteenth century, saw the end of medieval Christendom as it was split into the sovereign states of modern Europe. This was particularly destructive in Tudor England where rapid switches in government policy shattered the lives of many. Especially affected were the monks and nuns persecuted by the wholesale dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. One of these cast-out monks, a Carthusian of the dismantled priory of Mount Grace in Yorkshire, was Robert Fletcher, the hero of this novel.

The story of this strong, vulnerable man is told in counterpoint with the story of one of the most interesting men in the whole of English history, Reginald Pole, a nobleman, scholar and theologian who was exiled in Italy for twenty years. He was a Cardinal, papal legate at the Council of Trent, and as Archbishop of Canterbury, with his cousin Queen Mary Tudor, they tried, in too short a time, to renew Catholic England. Pole, in the tragic last months of his life, becomes in the novel the friend of Robert Fletcher, now condemned as a heretic.

Readers will learn much about this anguished period which gave birth to Tridentine Catholicism as well as to the Anglican and other Protestant churches, and which martyred Carthusian monks and many others.

331 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1999

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Lucy Beckett

13 books17 followers

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for booklady.
2,322 reviews65 followers
January 20, 2016
I’m really glad I stuck this one out because I had my doubts and struggles with Ms. Beckett's book in the beginning. The doubts concerned the author’s motives and the struggles centered on her sensitivity in handling the extremely difficult subject, ‘the Reformation’. As any follower of Christ knows, as any family member knows, as anyone who has ever loved knows, times of conflict between and among those we care about most are almost impossible to ‘get right’ in story. So it was and so it often remains in writing about the sixteenth century. Catholics and Protestants—then and now—confuse each other for the real enemy. Those outside the faith are quick to capitalize on our own bewilderment as proof of the overall failure of Christianity. But has Christianity failed ... or has it rather endured, just sadder and wiser for all it has suffered? Isn’t it rather a case that we allowed ‘the father of lies’ (cf. John 8:42-45) to confuse things and us? In fact, he was and always has been the real enemy. One of his best strategies is to muddy situations and what better way than to turn brothers against each other?

In Lucy Beckett’s The Time Before You Die, men (on either ‘side’) are neither the angels nor the devils. They are very human and very capable of sin. Unfashionable and un-politically correct as those terms are today, they are nevertheless true.

Her story centers around two men: a fictional Carthusian monk, Robert Fletcher from the Mount Grace Priory* and the historical Cardinal Reginald Pole. Both men are fascinating and made more so by the author’s skillful evolutionary development of characters through this most turbulent of times. Through their contrasting reactions, she reveals (at least some of) the myriad of responses to unfolding events. England suffered as much as the continent from the vicissitudes of the back and forth madness which delighted no one but the real enemy, as the genuine friends of God struggled to find Him amid the chaos.

The author also uses real letters from and to Cardinal Pole and references popular books of piety from the time, including The Cloud of Unknowing, to further ground her fictional story in history.

My greatest reservation in reading any book about the Reformation is that the author will hijack history to prove someone or some position is right and/or better. If or when I encounter that in a work of fiction, I want to throw the book across the room. To me, History is to be handled with the utmost care as God's sacred truth. Authors with agendas beware. While Ms. Beckett has chosen to include some of the atrocities of the time at the expense of others, she does not seem to have played favorites and for that I thank her and appreciate this book. There are times, however, as the book unfolds when the reader may not believe me in this. All I can say is, I felt the same, but continue reading the book. If you read it all and pray to Our Heavenly Father for His Truth, not ours, I believe you will not regret it.

*Mount Grace Priory is set in North Yorkshire, England's most important, best preserved and most accessible of the ten medieval Carthusian houses (charterhouses) in England. I wish I could say I had visited it when I lived in England in the 80s but I only managed to make it north to York once and then I spent the day in that city itself, which was amazing enough. The Yorkshire dales are a beautiful but also somewhat remote and forbidding part of England, tending to produce a hardy and some would say harsh brand of folk. This part ot England was popularized by the James Herriot series, All Creatures Great and Small.
Profile Image for Jeff Miller.
1,118 reviews171 followers
March 11, 2021
The plot was not what I expected. I thought for a reformation era novel it would be something like "Come Rack, Come Rope" or "Edmund Campion"

Still, I was pretty much absorbed in the story from start to finish in the serious subjects it explored. Like I said, not what I expected but very worthwhile.

Her novel "A Postcard from the Volcano" is one of my favorites novels. This novel was actually written first and shelved for lack of publisher until Ignatius Press took it on.
Profile Image for Ruth Dipple.
396 reviews
February 7, 2017
The historical period covered in the novel is a very dramatic one, and the plot focuses on the religious dimension. However I found it hard to empathise with the protagonist Robert Fletcher, a Carthusian whose religious affinities shift with the decades. His main foil is Cardinal Pole, whose life parallels his own.
The fictional element seemed to me to be a framework for long theological expositions which were heavy going. Hence it lacked a sense of life one looks for in fiction.
8 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2009
Wonderful work of historical fiction from several different competing perspectives.
March 23, 2021
Clever style for historic fiction

Rather than explaining political and social climates, the author uses letters from dignitaries to other dignitaries to update the readers. A thoughtful reading is required for some philosophical and religious conversations. Good character development.
Profile Image for Ann.
380 reviews24 followers
November 2, 2016
In some ways this was a very difficult book to read. The background to the novel is the 16th century starting around 1518 at the time of Luther's writing against the abuses of the Catholic Church as well as the time of King Henry VIII's pressuring the pope to give him his blessing in divorcing his wife. The author captures the intense conflict and turbulence of the time ... and does so in a fashion that does not denigrate either the Catholic or the Protestant cause. I found myself heartbroken over the incredible misunderstandings and abuses of power and subsequent burning and pillaging and murder that took place as supposed Christians battled it out over doctrine but also ... and perhaps mostly... over power and wealth. I almost put the book down at several points, only to pick it up again and I'm glad I did. The final chapters with the dialogue between the heretic priest and Cardinal Pole were incredibly life giving in a book that had plenty of strife !
April 3, 2016
I do recommend this book, although took me awhile to settle into it. Its historical settling was turbulent, as the tale tells. But much of the "action" here is in the hearts, thoughts, and spiritual wrestling of the main character (and his spiritual foil). In the last 100 pages, especially, I found some of the observations and conversations to be memorable in their insights and sensitivity. For all the fervor of the many players in the Reformation era, the main Player (Jesus Christ) is often obscured by the hubbub. Without taking sides in the theological/power struggle, the extraordinary writing of Lucy Beckett allows the veil to be pulled back here and there, so that light glimmers out amid the dark confusion. If you start this book, hang in there and read it through. It's worth it.
Profile Image for Charles Lewis.
276 reviews8 followers
December 28, 2016
I won't say much about this book except to say that it's a wonderful and graphic account of the years from King Henry VIII through to Queen Mary and the religious persecutions that took place first against Catholics and then against Protestants. It is through the memory of one former monk and his search for the right faith. It shows the madness of religious fanaticism and the horror of revenge despite Christianity's call for forgiveness. One suggestion: I would read a show intro to that period. It wasn't as simple as Anglicanism to Catholicism and back. There are other streams, such as the introduction of Luther's writings into England that come into the story.
16 reviews
July 6, 2016
I really enjoyed this book, it made me contemplate how the Reformation actually affected the lives of those who went through it. Although the theology went over my head slightly, as a character study it is beautiful. Mount Grace Priory, where much of the book is set, is also well worth a visit-one of the monk's cells has been recreated so you can get a sense of what they experienced. If you consider yourself a Tudor buff, you'd enjoy this book.
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews

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