Glittering Images is the first book in Susan Howatch's Starbridge Series, a fictional account of the Church of England in the 20th Century set in the Salisbury–like diocese of Starbridge. Glittering Images takes place in the 1930s, during the Anglican Church's debate over modernizing English divorce laws.
The Reverend Dr. Charles Ashworth is a polished Cambridge academic who prefers writing about medieval Christian theological disputes to active ministry. His mentor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, sends him to secretly investigate the Archbishop's rival, the charismatic Bishop of Starbridge, to determine if the Bishop's alternative household arrangements are as innocent as they appear or a sleazy ménage à trois sure to bring scandal on the Church.
Ashworth's integration into the Bishop's household culminates in his own traumatic breakdown – a major plot transition Howatch handles masterfully, gradually turning the story inside out. Only when Ashworth (with guiding counsel from an astute Anglican monk) untangles his own psycho-spiritual mess is he able to solve the mystery of Starbridge.
Howatch turned to the religious themes explored in Glittering Images after experiencing her own spiritual epiphany. The book is certainly Christian in outlook and subject matter, but in execution bears all the marks of Howatch's earlier pop-fiction family sagas. The fast-turning pages are full of gothic suspense, moody imagery, sex, scandal, and drama. May the rest of the Starbridge Series be this good.
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This counts as one of my two 450 to 500 page books for the Chunkster Challenge, as well as one of my choices for the Mt. TBR and Off the Shelf Challenges.