Susan Howatch is one of my favorite authors. She is not well known. Her books tend to be a bit melodramatic. And she has two distinct writing periods. Her early period was as a literary fiction author, based in NYC, working on books of historical fiction, usually long family dramas. I have read some, but not all of the books of this period.
The second writing period is after a divorce and after she moved back to England and eventually rediscovered faith. There are nine books in this period that are all narratively linked and should probably be read in order. They play out over about 65 years and involve many characters, but with a similar style and focus on living out or finding Christian faith. The first of the books in this period is Glittering Images.
Because this is really the last in a loosely connected series of nine, I am not going to try to relate all of the books together. But in the 7th book, the main character, Carter or Carta, is now the supporting character for the Heartbreaker. As is common in this series, the focus on the ongoing nature of Christian growth and maturity means that there is always more growth that is required. So part of the growth that Carta now needs is to be able to help the main character, Gavin.
Part of what I like about Howatch is that while she is writing about Christianity, she could never be published in the US evangelical world. Gavin is a high-end male prostitute. The sex here is not graphic, but there is sex. And there is a decent amount of language. Howatch is not glossing over the reality of prostitution and pornography. It is not really possible to have a fiction book about a prostitute without getting a bit gritty at times.
This is the last of Howatch’s books. At the end of the book, there is an interview with her where she says she is working on another book. But that was 16 years ago, and I assume that there are not any more books coming. This series was very influential in my life. It really moved me to think more clearly about Christianity as discipleship and spiritual formation over time. The early books in this series gave me a category of Spiritual Direction, and I eventually found a spiritual director, and I start my first class to become a spiritual director this weekend.
The Heartbreaker is probably the most traditional ‘Christian fiction’ book in the series in that it is really a salvation book. Gavin eventually is saved and finds healing. But his life will not be perfect from that point. You can see the weaknesses and sin of the other mature Christians around him all the time. Christianity is not about perfection or strength, but about weakness, submission to God and the ongoing process of becoming who you were created to be.