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Lapsing    by Jill Paton Walsh order for
by Jill Paton Walsh
Order:  USA  Can
Transworld, 1990 (1990)
*   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

The book is set in 1950s Oxford. Tessa, the main character, is an undergraduate student fervently following the tenets of the Catholic Church. Tessa's struggles with her religion date from the time she lived in Cornwall as a child evacuee from the London blitz. As Tessa grew to maturity she compensated for her doubts, striving ever harder to follow the church's teachings and doctrines. Tessa's ability for love seems strangled as she matures, a result of a cold mother, Catholic educational instruction, and a wrenching removal from her Cornish grandparents, who provided the only happiness and serenity in her life.

During her Catholic study groups at Oxford she meets Father Theodore, the study group leader. Father Theodore is younger than most of the clergy that she's met and has rather radical ideas. Theodore is also struggling with his own doubts about his vocation. During this crisis he tells Tessa of his infatuation with her. Tessa responds by conjuring up feelings for Theodore; the reader is always in some doubt as to whether these are true or imagined. Certainly Tessa convinces herself that she cannot live without Theodore, but she also cannot live with him.

Tessa spends her ensuing years faithfully following the man who inspired her first love, through marriage to another, Father Theodore's withdrawal from the Catholic Church and the resultant upheavals in their lives. This pursuit ends only when climatic events cause Tessa to realize the inadequacies of her relationship with Theodore. Lapsing provides the story of not a loss of faith in religion, but the consequences of misplaced faith in love.

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