This novel raises some interesting questions about humanity and belief. On an idyllic island that is like Mallorca but isn’t Mallorca, a man is swept ashore. He is from a civilised land but is an atheist. He is self-assured and has a belief in the goodness of human beings. However, the island on which he has landed is a religious one with a deeply conservative outlook. The man’s views conflict with the views of those who rule and, as we know, anyone who threatens the status quo is viewed as dangerous. When the inquisition arrives on the island, the man’s life is threatened.
In a second strand, a wolf- child found in the mountains is given into the care of a novice nun who is given instructions to look for signs of belief without giving any messages about God. If this child can demonstrate belief in God, then the hierarchy of the church can claim that knowledge of God is innate.
The novel is set in the 15th Century but the exact time and the exact location are less important than the ideas raised by the author. The concept of freedom of belief is under threat from a society that intends to protect itself. There is no room for tolerance when the status quo must be maintained.
Given the challenging material, it is perhaps no surprise that, despite being a well know children’s writer, Paton Walsh struggled to find a publisher that would take interest I her book. She published it herself, with the support of her husband, and was vindicated when it was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1994.
‘Knowledge of Angels’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?